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How glamour brought in a warm front.. 60 YEARS OF TV WEATHER FORECASTS.

Byline: DENNIS ELLAM

THEY first hit the screens in sober suits. Serious blokes with sliderules and simple maps, a world away from today's snazzy graphics and computer-aided predictions.

Sixty years after the first TV weather forecasts, the business of predicting the apparently unpredictable has at least become a more glamorous business...

But as rain-lashed Britons look for the "barbecue summer" they'd been promised, one man is willing to stand up for the Met Office.

Step forward Michael Fish, the longestserving weatherman on TV who famously failed to warn of a 1987 storm that devastated South East England.

He says: "We won't know if the forecast was wrong until the end of August. There could be a heat wave in two weeks time. Anyway, if you look at the statistics, this summer has not been as wet as the last two years. That looks like a success to me."

Who's to say if the supercomputers of today are making their forecasts with any more precision than the Sixties boffins with their inky fingers and flow charts, but certainly the public face of forecasting has changed beyond recognition.

Since George Cowling, a solid and sombre Forecast Officer from the Met Office, started the ball rolling in 1954, weathermen have become household names. But weatherwomen didn't appear for another 20 years when in 1974, when Barbara Edwards arrived from radio, with a style described as "homely".

And after her came the weather babes. At the start of the Nineties, an exotic newcomer called Ulrika Jonsson brought in the era of presenters with figures more interesting than isobars.

Today, 10 out of the BBC's 23 regular weather presenters are women, and most of ITV's regional forecasters are too.

And behind the onscreen faces, the technology was also changing fast. Today's supercomputer - rated third most powerful in the world - receives a stream of information from satellites and ground stations all around the globe, and runs simulations of what the weather is likely to do over the next hour, next day or month ahead. And the on-screen graphics are just as slick.

George, on the other hand, was equipped with an easel and a painted background. The BBC still has the bill for setting up his first studio... pounds 50.

It wasn't until colour TV arrived in 1967 that a new range of symbols were introduced - fluffy shapes for clouds, big dots for rain and downward-pointing triangles for showers. When the boffins couldn't think of a symbol for fog, they simply wrote "FOG" in capital letters.

Inevitably computers muscled into the weather business, and in 1985 the dearly-loved, wonky symbols were replaced by streamlined graphics. But when the BBC introduced a new 3D "rolling" weather map on screen in 2005, they were inundated with complaints that no one could understand it.

And in any case most of Britain is still not convinced that the supercomputer is a great deal better than looking at the colour of the sky at night ...

1949

FIRST regular BBC TV forecasts - with no presenter. They were - and still are - produced by the Met Office. In those days, long before computers, the forecasts were done with the help of slide rules and charts.

1950s

IN 1953 Britain was lashed by storms and there was terrible flooding and loss of life. The Storm Tide Forecasting Service was set up and planning began on the Thames Barrier to protect London.

1954

First TV weatherman George Cowling

GEORGE made history when he took to the screen on January 11, 1954 and gave a four-and-a-half minute broadcast in which he told viewers: "Tomorrow will be rather windy, a good day to hang out the washing."

George says now: "It was terrifying knowing I was doing something no one had done before. We didn't have computers so forecasts were done by intelligent guesswork."

George drew on a card chart with charcoal and the forecasts became so popular they drew 15million viewers.

George, now 88, remembers when Princess Margaret visited the studio and said to him: "Oh, I always switch you off when you come on but Mother likes you and she switches back on."

1960s

BERT Foord, one of the nation's favourite weathermen, began his on- screen career in 1963.

There was a breakthrough on predictions when the Met Office was able to start using radar to help with forecasts.

1970s

THE first European weather satellite was launched and produced black and white photos from space.

In the studio, new weather symbols with magnetic rubber stickers were used - the old ones had kept falling off the charts.

First TV weatherwoman Barbara Edwards

1974

BARBARA joined the BBC in 1974 and blazed a trail for a new generation of weather girls.

And she never let dodgy props get in the way - when a cloud or rain drop fell off the chart, she'd just put it back and carry on.

But by 1978, after four years on camera, Barbara had had enough of remarks about her appearance and moved to radio forecasting.

Now 69 and living in the West Country with her husband, Barbara recalls: "People kept complaining about the way I looked, the clothes I wore and my hairstyle.

"Every time I went out shopping somebody gave me an earful.

"All I wanted to do was present the weather forecast."

1980s

THE Met begins to help the NHS by predicting extreme weather that will affect admissions.

It also starts providing forecasts for military operations across the world.

Breakfast Time forecaster Francis Wilson invented two new weather words - "mizzle" (for mist and drizzle) and "thorms" (thunder storms).

1990s

THE dawn of the weather glamour girls. Queen was Ulrika Jonsson on TV-Am. Her rivals included fellow TV-Am forecaster Wincey Willis, BBC weather girl Suzanne Charlton and ITV weather girl Sian Lloyd.

A new super-computer was installed which helps give better predictions by using data from oceans as well as the atmosphere.

CAPTION(S):

Glam... weather girl Kirsty McCabe on ITV News Ulrika Jonsson aged 21 on TV-am in 1988 Andrea Maclean on GMTV in 1999 The first TV weather, in 1949 Bert does the forecast in 1964 Barbara back in the mid-70s Weathergirl Sian Michael in 1987.. ..still working now Serious... George Cowling on TV in 1954
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 2, 2009
Words:1037
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