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Thursday, 24 September 2015

A shower of change with gusts of discontent

“This is 2LO calling, the London station of the British Broadcasting Company calling. This is 2LO calling”
Such was the first broadcast ever issued by the BBC on 14th November 1922 from the organisation’s 2LO Office in London. The message was received by any radio within a 30 mile radius and was the inaugeration of the British Broadcasting Corporation.  Integrated in the announcement was a weather bulletin prepared by the Met Office which marked the beginning of a partnership which has supplied the British public’s appetite for weather-related conversation for 93 years.

Despite the longevity of this relationship, it was not immune to the BBC’s ever-tightening pockets and last month it was announced the Met Office is to become the latest casualty of the corporation’s modernisation. The BBC blames the split on the Met Office’s uncompetitive price, while rumours suggest that the problem runs deeper with a difference of opinion over the way the forecast should be communicated to the public. Those who are hoping the Met Office will be in the running for the re-tendering process are likely to be disappointed. The early rejection of the Met Office’s offer implies that more was at stake than just the money and any hope of a renewal is a low probability.

Whatever the outcome, the BBC weather forecast, which spans local news to the world service, is estimated to reach a quarter of a billion people weekly and the changes are certain to have an impact on how the world watches the weather. The Met Office is ranked as the world’s most accurate forecasting body, so is the BBC sacrificing it’s credibility on the alter of austerity? Or could there be a sunny outlook?

There are plenty of alternatives to the Met Office, with Dutch and New Zealand firms rumoured to be in the running for the £35.2 million contract. This, it seems, is adding insult to injury for some disgruntled members of the British public with cries of discontent along the lines of ‘Heaven forbid a foreign firm should predict the British weather; how could they possibly understand it’s temperamental disposition?’ (the fact that the majority of the UK’s weather is governed by global climate systems seems to be irrelevant in this). Even if the BBC resolves to look closer to home, there is a reasonable list of UK alternatives; The Weather Channel, Net Weather and The Weather Outlook to name a few although whether they have the capability to handling the BBCs expansive demands is a different matter altogether.


As the storm clouds gather over BBC HQ, the new provider will be announced next year after the tendering process. In short, it is uncertain who will be giving Britons their daily weather-fix although there is no doubt the BBC will be battening down the hatches to endure yet another tornado of discontent from license payers when the replacement made. Personally, I’ve never felt the weather pays much attention to the forecast regardless of the provider: In fact, the element of surprise is what makes being caught in the rain in my flip flops and snowed on in my swimsuit part of the paradoxical joy of inhabiting this country. Long may it continue I say.

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This blog is written by Cabot Institute member Keri McNamara, a PhD student in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol.
Keri McNamara

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