Why the weather forecaster was right after all
For many, the defining image of the Great Storm of 1987 was weather forecaster Michael Fish standing before the nation, promising there would be no hurricane. Someone had phoned the BBC earlier, he told viewers, with fears that one was on the way. “Well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t,” he cheerfully said. A few hours later, the south-east of England was hit by the worst weather it had seen in almost 300 years In subsequent days, as the damage was assessed, newspapers were filled with vitriol for Fish and the Met Office’s perceived failure to get the forecast right. The Met Office admitted that its radio and TV bulletins had predominantly warned of rainfall rather than strong winds, and conducted an internal investigation which resulted in improved weather data collection in the northern Atlantic and a change in how severe weather warnings were issued.
Fish, however, stuck to his guns, pointing out that he’d followed up his reassurance with warnings that the weather would become very windy, and claiming that his hurricane comments referred to a storm that had recently hit Florida. It was a fair defence: the term ‘hurricane’ refers to
tropical cyclones, not those that originate outside the tropics, as the Great Storm did. While wind speeds reached a level on the Beaufort scale labelled ‘hurricane force’, the Great Storm was never a hurricane. Fish was effectively right, but it mattered little: his name was forever associated with embarrassingly incorrect predictions.