Making the weather
24 Nov 2016 0 comments. tbs.pm/9704
From About Anglia ’75, a book published by The Boydell Press in 1974.
Forecasting and explaining the weather to a television audience night after night ever since I joined Anglia Television in 1961 might have become monotonous were it not for the fact that there is a constant two-way dialogue with the Anglia viewers. This exchange is demonstrated by the fact that people in eastern England are genuinely interested in weather matters and over the years I have been constantly heartened by the way in which they write to me and are always anxious to help in the day to day working of the Anglia Television Weather Service.
The basic material which has to be processed before a weather forecast can be issued consists of complicated weather charts, both at the surface and in the upper levels of the atmosphere. This material arrives in my office by special facsimile broadcast from the Meteorological Office Headquarters at Bracknell and Anglia Television is in fact the only non-official body connected to this facsimile chart broadcast. However, I must emphasise that these weather charts have to be analysed and interpreted before any information can be presented to the viewing public. The amount of information received this way is very great, but when dealing with regional forecasts it is necessary to have local sources of information and this is where the Anglia viewers have co-operated splendidly. Thus there is a whole network of voluntary observers who send in weekly and monthly data. Their reports of temperature, rainfall and sunshine are backed up by another body of coastal observers, whose main function it is to act as sources of up-to-the-minute information concerning conditions prevailing immediately along the coasts of eastern England.
Sometimes letters land in my tray marked ‘private’ and such letters often ask advice on a personal problem. For example, it is clear from the letters that I receive that many viewers have a tremendous fear of thunderstorms which they are sometimes reluctant to declare even to their own families! When such letters are received I always send a very individual reply and try to reassure the individual as well as I can. Help has sometimes been requested on very individual matters, such as a man fighting to save his roofing business from liquidation. The business man concerned wanted help to show that bad weather had been a major cause of the financial difficulties he had run into.
Many letters are quite light-hearted, like that of the lady in Diss who was worried because she had seen a wind arrow appear to stick out of the side of my neck as if the Apache indians had been attacking the studio — I was able to report that the U.S. Cavalry arrived in good time. The head gardener in a Suffolk town wrote in one day to say that he had a pensioner working for him, who constantly commented ‘I see Michael Hunt had another jacket on last night, I wholly wonder what he does with his old ’uns?’. The head gardener concerned wrote to me for an answer ‘So that peace can reign again in my glass houses’.
Every weather forecaster is of course vulnerable in that weather forecasts can go awry, sometimes very badly. This is not surprising when one considers that a weather forecast represents an attempt to foresee how complicated weather patterns will move and develop during the next 24 hours. Another way of considering the problem is to realise that a weather system which might be affecting eastern England tomorrow afternoon is probably some hundreds of miles west of Ireland at noon today. Even if the movement of weather systems is correctly forecast there is still the question of changes in the intensity of the associated weather as the weather system moves eastwards. Many viewers have become educated into realising and understanding these problems and it is very rewarding when letters are received from people of all ages showing that they have come to understand weather processes much better since the Anglia regional forecasts became available on their screens.
My work as a meteorologist has taken me to many parts of Europe and Africa and one is not always concerned with depressions off Iceland, or weather fronts moving from Ireland. In Africa I worked on the weather aspects of the movement of locust swarms which devastate crops and vegetation. During one journey by train the locusts were lying so thickly on the railway line that the train was brought to a halt. Eventually we discovered that morning temperature, and wind at about 1500 ft., were the main factors in control of flight movement and direction. Another assignment involved spending nearly a fortnight on the upper slopes of Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. The main peak is over 19,000 ft. and there are large permanent glaciers which are the source of the mountain streams vital to the native agriculture on the lower slopes. During the fortnight we traversed most of the upper slopes and mapped the glaciers to show how much they had receded since the last survey some 25 years earlier.
I have finally come to rest in eastern England and both my family and I think we have made a happy choice.
- Michael Hunt (1920-1985) was Anglia’s chief meteorologist. The Royal Meteorological Society gives out a biennial Michael Hunt Award to individuals for excellence in increasing the understanding of meteorology or its allied disciplines among members of the general public.