diamond geezer

 Monday, May 16, 2005

Whether forecast

They've gone. All those 30-year old BBC weather symbols, all those chunky white clouds and yellow temperature circles, they just evaporated like the morning dew. This morning, as of about 45 minutes ago in fact, the entire BBC meteorological customer interface updated to something rather more 21st century. The BBC have bought into a swish program called Weatherscape, developed by technoboffins in New Zealand, and everything now looks very very different.

The TV weather map used to be static, but now we swoosh around the British Isles looking down from above, sickbag in hand. Be patient - your bit of the UK will come around in a minute. The new satellite view squashes the country vertically, which is not necessarily a good thing when the UK is 'portrait' and your TV screen is 'landscape', so viewers in the north of Scotland may now have to squint to catch sight of where they live. And the forecast is now depicted not via symbols but through shading - bright for sunshine, darker for overcast and blue for rain. This is probably an improvement, given that the old symbols covered hundreds of square miles each and so were never pinpoint accurate, but you can't just glance at the screen any more and think "ooh, showers with sunny intervals". Now you have to stop, and think, and concentrate, and work out what the hell all that patchy shading means for your home town. I'm struggling a bit. Maybe I'll get used to the new style of presentation after a while, but for the time being I'm sort of hankering after all those beloved 1970s design icons.

A brief history of BBC weather symbols
1954: In the first broadcast weather forecast, proper meteorological symbols are drawn onto a synoptic chart using wax crayon.
1967: Magnetic rubber symbols are introduced, stuck onto (and occasionally falling off of) a big UK map. The symbols still match those on an "official" weather chart, with black spots for rain, triangles for showers and a big spiky 'T' for thunderstorms.
1975: A new set of weather symbols is introduced, still magnetic but a good deal more realistic. Now there are clouds that look like clouds, raindrops that looks like raindrops and a sun that looks like it was drawn by a 4 year old (the symbols were in fact created by Mark Allen, a 22 year old graphic designer from the Norwich College of Art). Perfectly simple, but simply perfect.
1985: New computer presentation is introduced. The map can now be shaded different colours for different temperatures, but the symbols remain exactly the same. [Also introduced in this particular week: Wogan, EastEnders and the first computer generated BBC1 globe]
1988: The first dynamic arrows to show wind direction and strength, and the introduction of rainfall radar.
1996: Shading now depicts the land more realistically, with lumpy hills and yellowy deserts.
2005: After thirty years' service the faithful old symbols are retired from the television weather forecast, replaced by revolutionary 3D graphics. See what you think of the new splotchy/shaded cloudy/wet weather forecasts (examples here). But if you're suffering withdrawal symptoms don't worry, because those (slightly updated) classic symbols survive into their fourth decade on the BBC's online weather maps.

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