Weather Forecasts

As a photographer, I need to have a good idea of what the weather will be like tomorrow or even over the next few hours. The Met Office are the government funded weather forecaster, so it would seem sensible to use them. However, I’ve noticed on several occasions that I check the weather at 6am and make a decision on what to do that day only to find out that the forecast has changed by 7am. On one day when I was at home, I decided to keep a record of what the forecasts were doing – they are updated every hour.

The Met Office's ever changing forecast

The Met Office's ever changing forecast

The left hand column with 6am, 7am, etc. is the time at which the forecast was updated. The row across the top is the time at which the weather was supposed to be doing what was forecast. I shall use the forecast for 12pm as an example. At 6am, midday was forecast to be thick cloud. At 7am, midday was forecast to be medium level cloud, and so on. Over the 6 hours leading up to midday, the forecast changed no less than 4 times! I shall let you draw your own conclusions to all that, but it certainly makes my job very, very difficult and costs me a lot in wasted fuel for journeys when the forecast says one thing and the reality is something completely different.

 

The Met Office also have a detailed mountain forecast which, I believe, is subsidised by the Welsh Assembly. Before a recent trip out, I checked this forecast, which told me “Hill fog: None” and also that the visibility would be “moderate to good”, which I read as hazy conditions. It also said hill fog would become persistent later in the day. To me, that seems like ideal conditions for some photos during the morning. I was rather surprised when I drove for an hour and walked to the summit of Pen y Fan to spend most of my time in the fog from 8:30 in the morning. I mentioned this on Twitter – here is the conversation in it’s entirety:

 

Me: Met Office mountain forecast wrong again. Am now in thick cloud in the Brecons. Another wasted trip @metoffice
Met Office: We did state there would be cloud and vis would be moderate to poor
The link they sent me was to their mountain forecast that explicitly said visibility would be moderate to good
Me: Actually, your forecast says “Visibility moderate or good” and “hill fog: None at first.” not mod to poor according to your link.
Met Office: It says “Moderate or good, becoming locally poor later. Very poor in hill fog”
Note that they’ve just changed their mind on what their forecast says
Me: Yep it says “Very poor in hill fog” also “Hill fog: None at first. Persistent … by early afternoon”. I was there at 8:30am. :-)

 

What annoyed me in particular wasn’t that the forecast was wrong, but that they refused to admit it. It might seem like I’m being petty here, but this cost me 65 miles in diesel (£29.24 at the HMRC business rate of 45p per mile) and around 4 hours of not being at my desk and potentially earning money by writing magazine articles, keywording images, etc.

 

When I started freelancing in 2005, I used the forecast regularly and 9 times out of 10 it would be accurate and I would be in the weather I wanted to be. Something seems to have changed recently, maybe after they spent £33m on a new super computer (that’s what I’ve read anyway), and now their forecasts change hourly – sometimes dramatically from sunny spells to heavy rain and back again. It isn’t just me who has noticed this – several fellow photographers have had wasted and costly trips out. I’m not a forecaster and I don’t know what’s going on, but I do know that this is costing me a fortune in wasted diesel and time.

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