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Always take the weather with you: 100 years of forecasting broadcasts | Television & radio

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Exactly 100 years ago today, at 10.05am on 26 April 1921, an unassuming cleric and academic, Rev William F Robison, the president of St Louis University, made history as the first person in the world to broadcast a weather report. He was launching the university’s own radio station, WEW, and followed some opening remarks with a 500-word meteorological bulletin.

Weather forecasting in Britain actually began 60 years before, when the Meteorological Office, a department within the Board of Trade founded to predict storms and limit loss of life at sea, began to supply the Times with weather reports in 1861. The shipping forecast was launched in 1867, when information about marine conditions was telegraphed to ports and harbours all round the UK coast.

When most of us think of the weather forecast, though, we tend to think of television and a presenter standing in front of a weather map. The first TV forecasts, on the BBC in 1936, featured rudimentary hand-drawn maps, with an off-screen narration by someone almost certainly wearing black tie.

It wasn’t until 1954 that the weather was given a face – that of George Cowling, who stood in front of the (still hand-drawn) BBC weather map and gave his predictions. Cowling, a man unaccustomed to the limelight, was more interested in the weather than being on TV, and joined the RAF as a military meteorologist in 1957.

Carol Kirkwood, joint favourite weather presenter with Tomasz Schafernaker in a Radio Times poll.
Carol Kirkwood, joint favourite weather presenter with Tomasz Schafernaker in a Radio Times poll. Photograph: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

Over the years, very few weather presenters have been employed by the BBC. Most have been with the Met Office. This has not always been the case with other broadcasters. The little-lamented tabloid channel L!VE TV, for example, was less interested in meteorological credibility, hence its decision to broadcast the weather in Norwegian. This may have been a tribute to Vilhelm Bjerknes (1862-1951), a physicist and one of the founding fathers of meteorology, but it’s just possible that it had more to do with the young, blond, female presenters. Even today, it doesn’t take long online to find endless pages devoted to ranking the world’s hottest weather presenters. Will the drizzle be any less drizzly if we’re told about it by someone in tight clothes?

It all seems a far cry from the homely charms of Michael Fish, a man so prominent in the national consciousness that one year he won the titles both of Britain’s best dressed man and Britain’s worst dressed man. Today, Fish is rather cruelly remembered as the man who failed to predict the great storm of 1987, a claim he strenuously denies.

Old school, Michael Fish in his heyday.
Old school, Michael Fish in his heyday. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

Each generation has its memorable weather presenters. For me, the forecast will always be Fish, or the breathlessly enthusiastic Ian McCaskill, armed with their magnetic symbols that, with luck, would stick to the spot on the map where they put them. Today’s favourites, according to a recent Radio Times poll, are Carol Kirkwood and the famous finger of forecasting himself, Tomasz Schafernaker. Although, judging by recent events, perhaps Alex Beresford might be in with a shout now.

Just as the forecasters change, so too does the weather backdrop. Gone are the magnetic clouds that replaced the old hand-drawn weather maps. Now digital technology has given us satellite images and CGI.

In a 2017 podcast, weather forecaster Peter Gibb recalled how predicting conditions made a big leap forward in the 1980s thanks to a new supercomputer. This processing behemoth had roughly a third of the power of a modern smartphone. Today, the Met Office uses the Cray XC40, one of the most powerful computers in meteorology, capable of performing 14,000 trillion arithmetic operations every second. Even that, though, is shortly to be rendered obsolete. Last week, the Met Office announced that it is to partner with Microsoft to build the most powerful weather computer in the world, twice as powerful as any other computer in the UK.

New wave… Tomasz Schafernaker, favourite of Radio Times readers, along with Carol Kirkwood.
New wave… Tomasz Schafernaker, favourite of Radio Times readers, along with Carol Kirkwood. Photograph: BBC Weathher

Even without this new processing titan, modern forecasts are so precise, they even factor in variables such as soil type and whether the leaves are on the trees. The result of all this gadgetry is more accurate forecasts than ever before. Now, four-day forecasts are as accurate as one-day forecasts were 30 years ago. That said, long-term forecasting is still a fool’s game. Just look at the plethora of “Three months of blizzards” headlines certain newspapers churn out on quiet days, based on the sensationalist hypothesis of a fantasist with a ZX Spectrum.

Paradoxically, though, greater accuracy might spell the end for weather broadcasts. The ability to get a prediction not just for your region, but specifically for your city, town or even your village, is an extraordinary leap forward. But it’s not one that you’re likely to benefit from on a national broadcast. If I lived in Mayfair (a guy can dream, right?) Schafernaker might be able to tell me what the weather will be like in London and the south-east, but any number of apps will tell me what will happen in Mayfair every hour for the next few days. This kind of renders the weather broadcasts defunct.

In short, then, 100 years after the world’s first broadcast weather report, the outlook for weather forecasts on TV and radio could best be described as distinctly unsettled.

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I can’t charge my electric car cheaply because I’m too close to an RAF base | Money

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A few months ago I decided to switch energy supplier and moved to Octopus Energy’s Go tariff, principally because it offers cheap electric car charging overnight at a rate of 5p/kWh.

I applied to have the required smart meter installed. But after being given a date, I was later declined on the basis that smart meters cannot work at my address because they interfere with the missile early warning system at RAF Fylingdales.

Initially, I thought this was a joke. I have been involved with the construction of hundreds of new homes in Teesside, all of which have had smart meters installed.

Smart Energy GB, the body responsible for the rollout, has confirmed that this is very real, and smart meters installed in the area will not have had their smart capacity turned on.

I was told that a new meter is being worked upon and will eventually replace those already installed.

Meanwhile, I am having to charge my car at a premium rate of 16.76p/kWh which is costing me about £26 more a week than it would be on the Go tariff.

AM, Guisborough

Given that your house is more than 20 miles from the RAF base in question, I, too, was amazed that this could be an issue, but it is – and also in other areas close to bases.

Smart Meter GB has confirmed this is the case and says it is working on a solution – a communications hub that will enable people living near sensitive RAF sites to use smart meters.

It says these will be offered to customers “in the coming months”.

It adds those in the affected area, who had already had smart meters installed should be able to have the hubs retrofitted.

Meanwhile, Octopus has come up with a solution for your problem. It has offered to add you to the trial of these new meters, which, in turn, will allow you to go on the Go tariff.

It says it hopes to install your new meter before Christmas. It has also said that if you get the log from your charging firm, showing how much electricity you have used for the car since the switch took place, it will retroactively apply the savings that you would have gained had the smart meter worked from the start – a generous offer.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email consumer.champions@theguardian.com or write to Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Include a phone number. Letters are subject to our terms: gu.com/letters-terms

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China’s Yutu rover spots ‘mysterious hut’ on far side of the Moon

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Cube-shaped object is probably just a rock. Yutu will check it out anyway

China’s Moon rover, Yutu 2, has sent images of a strangely geometric object.…

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Strikepay struck gold at National Startup Awards 2021

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Strikepay, founded by fintech entrepreneurs Oli Cavanagh and Charles Dowd, scooped the top award for its fast-growing cash-free tipping tech.

Irish fintech company Strikepay has scooped the top prize at this year’s National Startup Awards.

The start-up, previously called Strike, was founded in 2020 to enable cash-free tipping without the need for a payment terminal or a new app on a customer’s phone.

Its founders, fintech entrepreneurs Oli Cavanagh and Charles Dowd, raised €625,000 in seed funding earlier this year and said they intended to seek a further €6.5m in investment by the end of 2021.

Strikepay has already begun acquiring and collaborating with other companies to bolster its product offering. In June, it acquired UK payments rival Gratsi and in April it appointed former Just Eat exec Edel Kinane as its chief growth officer.

Earlier in the year, it teamed up with Camile Thai Kitchen to enable contactless tipping for food delivery drivers and partnered with mobility company Bolt to bring its cashless tipping technology to taxis in Dublin.

Strikepay was one of several winners at the awards ceremony, which was livestreamed last night (2 December).

Other winners included health-tech start-up Stimul.ai, customer analysis tech business Glimpse, and sheep monitoring start-up Cotter Agritech, which has been participating in a new accelerator programme at University College Dublin.

As well as taking the top award, Strikepay also won Best Fintech Startup.

This year marked the 10th year of the National Startup Awards. The event was sponsored by Enterprise Ireland, Microfinance Ireland, Sage, Cronin Accountants and McCann Fitzgerald.

Last year’s top award was given to drone delivery service Manna. The start-up had been working with companies such as Tesco, Just Eat and Camile Thai to test its drones, and has seen further growth since then.

The full list of winners at the 2021 awards, in order of gold, silver and bronze, are:

Startup of the Year 2021

Strikepay

Early Stage Startup

Imvizar, CyberPie, The Fifth Dimension

Emerge Tech Startup

Xunison, Helgen Technologies, LiveCosts.com

Fintech Startup

Strikepay, ID-Pal, Itus Secure Technologies

Food and Drink Startup

Fiid, SiSú, Thanks Plants

Social or Sustainable Startup

Altra, Peer, Fifty Shades Greener

Product and Manufacturing Startup

Cotter Agritech, Orca Board, Filter

E-commerce and Retail Startup

FinalBend, The Book Resort, Nufields

Tech Startup

Glimpse, LegitFit, Examfly

Medtech Startup

Stumul.ai, SymPhysis Medical, Bonafi

Covid Pivot or Response Startup

Zoom Party/Find A Venue, KSH Group, Streat School

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