Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Long Range Weather Forecast.

Weather forecasting is a very technical subject. Whether it be the weather on land or the weather at sea. With the old BBC weather transmission terminology now taking on a whole new set of colloquial meaning for Dogger and German Bight. 

Weather forecasting is an area where we need a lot of technological help. So here are a selection of the more popular forecasting aids.

The ever popular Pine Cone has been collected and used for many years by land based weather forecasters. The principle of operation are that in fine weather, the cone petals will open fully. In changeable weather conditions the come will operate in its half-n-half mode. In very inclement weather the cone will close its petals into the wet weather mode of operation.

Seaweed is also a popular weather prediction device used by many sea based weather forecasters. If it is wet and pliable the weather is not going to be very good. If it is limp and lank the weather is changeable. If it is dry and leathery the forecast will be good. There is also the taste test. If it is salty there has been little rain. if it tastes quite bland there has been a good amount of rain.

The weather forecasting technology was further refined by the invention of the Irish Weather Stone.

Stone is wet = Rain.
Stone is dry = Not Raining.
Shadow on ground = Sunny.
White on top = Snow.
Can't see stone = Foggy.
Swinging Stone = Windy.
Jumping up and down = Earthquake.
Stone gone = Tornado.

Back in 2010 I wrote about a more up to date weather forecasting method which was on Yorkshire TV in the 1980s. "Foggitt's Forecast" was presented by William (Bill) Foggit. Bill had inherited a family tradition of amateur weather forecasting and made its curious methods a byword. Especially as enthusiasts tuned into his accounts of the behaviour of snails, moles, flies, pine cones and seaweed to predict the weather. Or the unseasonal flowering of coltsfoot, which he used to predict patterns of rain and sunshine. He did this with notable accuracy! often beating the Meteorological Office at its own game. 

His slot on Television was respected regionally more than that of the Meteorological Office, and not just because its description of erratic sheep behaviour were much more engaging than isobars. Bill's enormous stock of lore was as reliable as the professional technology. Like his equivalent at Delphi, Foggitt, the "Oracle of Thirsk", embodied the accumulated wisdom not only of his own lifetime, but of his ancestors'. The Foggitts had been keeping weather records in Thirsk since 1830, when Bill's great-grandfather, prompted by the story of a flood which had swept away part of the town of Yarm in 1771, began a weather diary in the hope of being able to predict such catastrophes.

Foggitt's method was based on two things: the conviction, derived from family records, that the weather is cyclical, a severe winter occurring every 15 years, a very hot summer every 22; and the country lore passed on through generations of the Foggitt family and based on traditional sayings and observations of plant and animal behaviour. Thus, when swallows come early in April, it will be a good summer; the closing of pine cones precedes wet weather; soporific flies mean thunderstorms; when frogs lay their spawn in mid-pond and rooks nest higher in the treetops, the weather will be warm; if the yellow goatsbeard flower closes its petals early in the day, it heralds rain.

Foggitt had always been interested in animal behaviour and recalled seeing, on a mild Boxing Day in 1946, a flock of waxwings devouring some holly berries. He was with his father at the time, who remarked that it was going to be a bad year. The waxwings, he said, had come from Scandinavia, fleeing the weather. Sure enough, 1947 turned out to be one of the coldest years in living memory.

Bill was invited by Professor John Gilbert of Reading University to participate in a project, based on remote sensing in science education, which would become a standard element in the national science curriculum. Foggitt, whose family folklore was a significant factor in the project, was later described by Gilbert as a living legend who was still practising methods of weather forecasting used as far back as the 15th century.
In 1990, as part of a promotion campaign, the English Tourist Board published a pamphlet containing 50 of Foggitt's "Be your own Forecaster" tips, including such pearls of wisdom as 

  • "Rainbows at morn, good weather has gone"
  • "Rain before seven, fair by 11." 
  • "When squirrels start to hoard, winter will strike like a sword"
  • "When the distant view is clear, rain will very soon be here."

Unlike Keats, poetry,was not Bill's strong suit. 


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