Postcard from London: Get set for a “scorching” 22C
I had to check that the date on the paper wasn’t April 1. Under the headline “Tanfastic – Time to strip off as spring hots up” readers were breathlessly warned that: “Sun-seekers should gear up for the hottest day of the year today as temperatures reach a balmy 22 degrees.
“The unrivalled hot weather – 76 degrees Fahrenheit – follows a mixed Easter weekend of blue skies dotted with showers.”
I can’t now recall whether the temperature reached the “balmy” heights of 22 on that April day but the story marked the beginning of the annual season for predicting that Britain will have a scorching summer.
Since then people have been warned to expect to “swelter” during a “blistering” summer.
In the past week Fleet Street has produced headlines including “Serving up a Wimbledon heatwave” and “The future is hot – Britain will bake say weathermen”.
The logic among meteorologists – whose cruel existence I will address later - is that a cold winter like the one that blanketed London in snow in February is followed by a hotter than average summer.
The Department of Health has been swept up in “barbecue summer” euphoria, issuing a 39-page booklet on how to deal with extremely hot weather, warning that thousands of elderly Britons are at risk of dying if the heatwave materialises. That “if” is so big it could be seen from space.
Health Department mandarins are even urging people to paint their homes white to reflect the heat at an average cost of £3,750 ($7,800). That’ll feel like money well spent if the barbecue summer is blown off course to, say, the Mediterranean.
Admittedly it’s early days, but with Wimbledon in progress, summer has officially now begun. Don’t fall off your seat but I can report that the heatwave has not yet arrived.
A burst of blue skies earlier in the month turned out to be a tease. The sky over London earlier this week was covered in those white-grey clouds that neither rain nor go away. The temperature was predicted to peak at an almost-balmy 21.
But hope is, of course, on the horizon. Across my screen comes a BBC report predicting blue skies by midweek, but who knows? The experts don’t and they’ve basically given up making a call either way on day-to-day forecasts.
Weather presenters have been lambasted so many times for failed predictions that the TV weather here carries more disclaimers than a mobile phone contract.
“Probably” and “likely to be” are peppered over everything and “possibly” is used as a full-stop to most sentences. Last week the ITV man finished with: “So it’s probably going to be a pretty good weekend for some, but maybe not for most people”.
The weather boffins at the Met office, which supplies the forecasts, are behind this non-committal approach. They can’t win.
Tourism officials in seaside Bournemouth are the latest to blast the Met, accusing it of costing the area millions of pounds in lost business over a recent long weekend.
Visitors apparently stayed away in droves on advice that the weekend would be blighted by “constant rain and thundery storms”. The reality was glorious skies and (a balmy) 22 degrees.
The Bournemouth Tourism Alliance blamed what it said was an overcautious forecast on the “Michael Fish effect”.
Fish is a BBC weatherman who got one forecast so horribly wrong that his infamy has lasted for more than 20 years and his name is basically a byword here for cock-up.
This is what he said on live TV on October 15, 1987: “Earlier today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she’d heard there was a hurricane on the way … Well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t!”.
That night, the worst storm to hit southern England since 1703 caused record damage and killed 19 people.
The fact that Michael Fish continued broadcasting until 2004 and was awarded an MBE for his services should tell you a lot about not only British sense of humour but the faith placed in the weather forecast.
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