It has been a week of extremes – and that applies not just to the weather but the nannying advice that we’ve all been bombarded with.
On Monday, we were warned to stay out of the heat, to drink fluids and cut down on exercise and alcohol in the sunshine. Beware, we were told, of sunburn, heat exhaustion and ‘water safety incidents’.
The weekend has brought quite a contrast, though. Now, instead, we must be careful when driving because there’s spray on the roads and some routes might be flooded. Trains and buses might be cancelled. ‘Power cuts might occur.’
We all want clear and accurate weather forecasts and – as temperatures hit 31.6C (88.9F) – it was entirely proper for the Met Office to issue its first-ever severe heat warnings at the start of the past week. Similarly, it has been important to know that we face heavy rain and thunderstorms in the next few days.
It has been a week of extremes – and that applies not just to the weather but the nannying advice that we’ve all been bombarded with. Pictured: Streaks of lightning fills the sky above the seaside resort of Weymouth in Dorset
But that’s where it should stay. Forecasters should stand up and give the weather facts and leave it to the viewers to decide for themselves how to respond.
Right now, for example, many people will want to stay indoors for a few days and avoid the storms. But I went out bowling in yesterday’s thunder – I’m the chairman of a local bowling club – and enjoyed it very much.
People react in very different ways.
I recall one female viewer in particular from my time at the London Weather Centre. Even a throwaway reference to storms would provoke panicked phone calls.
Terrified at the prospect of thunder, this lady would retreat to the London Underground’s Circle Line, then travel round and round until she judged the danger had passed.
On Monday, we were warned to stay out of the heat, to drink fluids and cut down on exercise and alcohol in the sunshine. Beware, we were told, of sunburn, heat exhaustion and ‘water safety incidents’. Pictured: Bill Giles
That was her right. But it is not appropriate for weathermen and women to instruct the rest of us on how to be cautious – aside from in the most unusual of circumstances.
Unfortunately, our weather forecasts have been accompanied by ever more advice and guidance in recent years. And increasingly, this commentary is taking on much the same tone as the endless Covid instructions of the past 16 months. Some basic guidance might well be necessary from time to time. That’s understood.
But the people delivering the forecasts – whether it is the Met Office or the BBC – should be careful not to start telling the rest of us how to behave.
Times have changed. In my 20 years as the BBC’s chief weatherman, and my 40 years with the Met Office, we were careful about what we said.
There were strict rules. We weren’t even supposed to speak about the risk of flooding, for example, as meteorologists had no expertise in ground water. But back then, it was up to each individual to decide on how they would respond to the information we provided.
It is wrong for people in authority to issue endless instructions – and more than that, it is impossible. People get angry. A democracy requires free will and consent.
It says something about the times we live in that Public Health England has now taken to interpreting the weather for our benefit – as if we didn’t know to drink ‘fluids’ when it’s hot outside, or wrap up when it turns unusually cold.