The weather – which forecast do you choose?

We talk about it all the time. We buy large quantities of gear to cope with it. We sometimes enjoy it but we all at sometime or other get completely caught out by it. Well, you’ve guessed by the title that I am talking about the weather. Specifically I am refering to British Weather. You know, that phenomenon we all know exists whereby its fabulously sunny when you leave the house but by the time you start your walk its freezing cold, windy and the sleet is finding ways to scour your face. Of course weather changes depending on if you are on a beach or struggling up a mountain and wishing you were actually back at the beach. Preferably with a large ice-cream. And no seagulls. I hate seagulls. Anyhow, knowing what we know about British weather you would think we would all be experts and that the forecasts available would be incredibly accurate.

No. Nope. Wrong.

Well actually I think weather forecasting has become better in recent years to be fair. Also taking into account the fact that there are approximately 94000 square miles of land to forecast for, its always going to be tough getting it right all the time. Some of the time would be nice mind you.

So, you’ve made your plans for a walk or camping trip. You know where you are going and for how long. Now comes the difficult bit. What gear to take, and in that I mean specifically what clothing? When Crowded House sang “Four Seasons in One Day” I am fairly positive that they must have been thinking about Britain. Some long buried horror memory of a walk in one of our mountain areas in “summer”. Scarred for life. Back to the question though. What gear to take? On a day trip this isnt so much of an issue but on multiday trips its more tricky because of weight and packing restrictions. Unless you carry a 120litre Bergan that is (shudders at the memory of long past Duke of Edinburgh trips). So a good weather forecast would be a good thing right? But which one do you use as there are half a dozen ones that I scan regularly and probably more out there still. Theoretically all forecasts take their data from The Met Office but not necessarily so.

The forecasts I look at on a regular basis are listed below. I have found all to be accurate, some unneringly so, on occasions but not consistently so unfortunately. Rarely do they all agree with each other which is maddening because if they all were roughly the same then you dont mind which you use. If however, and this has happened to me, you pick the “wrong” one and get battered by the weather you will forever mistrust them all to a degree from there on in. You will also dither between forecasts trying to forecast which forecast is the true forecast 🙂

The list:

The BBC weather

This is probably what most casual observers use for their weather forecast. They’ve recently changed the layout and I dont personally like it (even less now). They used to have the day light hours on the forecast but no longer. It doesnt look at mountain areas specifically so is very much a generalised view of the weather.

Pros – easy to find

Cons – not mountain specific. Layout awkward. Not very much detailed info.

The Met office 

I like this site. Its how the BBC site should be and in fact I guess this site is for the more discerning weather buff. Its got lots of information and you can look at generalised areas or more importantly mountain areas with the major national parks getting their own sections. Its a really good weather site and the one I tend to go for first. The long range forecast for the mountain areas is limited but this is a small niggle

Pros – stacks of useful information and links. good combination of maps, data and levels of detail available. drop down menus. user friendly

Cons – long range mountain forecast is limited

Metcheck

I sometimes use this site as a quick check to see what the long range forecast is going to be. The visual representation of the forecast in terms of time bands is good and the summary at the introduction page of the weather is quite detailed. On the downside, the site often suffers from glitches. Sometimes the weather breakdown doesnt appear and sometimes I cant access the site. Nethertheless not a bad site

Pro – easy to use and well laid out. good detailed weather summary page and breakdown of the weather in time bands

Cons – suffers from software glitches.

MWIS

This is a site that a lot of people have refered me to. Alot of positive things said about it by a large number of walkers/outdoor people. The site focusses on the mountain areas as you would expect. I like the fact that the forecast is put onto a pdf for printing with todays as well as the next 2 days forecast for the area and some other general information on it. I think its got slightly less info than the Met Office site but still a very handy site indeed

Pros – mountain orientated weather. very handy 3 day weather report on a pdf ready to print. Good summary of weather information required for walking/camping etc

Cons – very minor point of being slightly less detailed than the Met Office site but this is a tiny quibble

Accuweather

Actually I am not sure why I put this on here. I have used it in the past for an overview of the weather and it uses a satellite image to show the conditions of the area you have picked. Its not mountain specific but you can adapt it for this use by entering the closest town to where you are headed. The overview is useful as it populates the satellite image with local observations. Apart from that though it suffers heavily from advertising and cookies

Pros – satellite representation with weather observations pinpointed on the map. Bright and visually attractive

Cons – heavily commercialised with cookies etc, also not mountain specific (but can be used for mountain forecasts)

iGoogleweather

I actually quite like this site in a quirky way. Again its a little commercialised but not as much as accuweather. I like the fact that you get the map overview as well as the satellite image if you want to switch to that. Local observations feed into the map to give an overall appreciation of current conditions. It is a little clunky and difficult to access sometime though

Pros – visually appealing with map and satellite weather info for your chosen area.

Cons – difficult to navigate to and through sometimes. Commercialised and not mountain specific.

There are of course many more weather sites out there but I think the above represents the main ones and certainly the ones I have used in the past. My favourite is the Met Office site. I think it gives a nice balance of mountain and general weather info as well as short and long range forecasts. The MWIS is a close second for me. I especially like the pdf summary for today and the next 2 days and that fact its mountain specific.

Now I know you will be asking that burning question of how accurate are these sites. To be honest, accuracy is on the eye of the beholder. I have tramped the Brecon Beacons for many a year and I have seen countless examples of weather in one valley or ridge being completely different to the next even though separated by only a few miles. For mountain weather I just dont think you can get to the level of accuracy that everyone craves. However having said that I have found the Met Office forecast to be pretty accurate (probaly a 7/10) for the national park in general.

Anyway, I am sure you all have your favourite weather sites (maybe some of you still sniff the air and feel the breeze before setting out) but I hope this is of passing interest or even assistance

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About Saddlebags and Backpacks - a brewer's outdoor adventures

I am a keen hiker, camper, cyclist and general all round gear addict..... I also manage to be a professional brewer in my non-spare time :->
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12 Responses to The weather – which forecast do you choose?

  1. Bob andrews says:

    I use as a starting point XC Weather.

  2. backpackbrewer says:

    Hi Bob,

    thanks for the headsup. I’ve not used XC weather before (or indeed heard of it until now). Looks very visual on first glance so I’ll bookmark it for future reference thanks!

  3. bigbananafeet says:

    MWIS for mountain stuff and Met office for general stuff for me.

    I tend to find that MWIS can sometimes err slightly on the pessimistic side but that’s no bad thing when the weather turns out to be slightly better than anticipated. Usually right on the money for me though.

    I must say I’ve been a bit annoyed with the weather forcasting in general this year (BBC and MET office). It’s been all apocalytic warnings of snow and terrible weather after the transport department got caught with their pants down last year up here so now everybody has been super cautious. Personally I think this winter has been a bit of a let down after the last two.

    Of course it could be my fault…the year I buy a proper Landy the bloody snow dries up!

  4. backpackbrewer says:

    well, the landy will no doubt come in use for things other than snow! 🙂

    I know what you mean about the over pessimism on the forecasting this winter. Still better that way round than the other. Having said that, one day this winter, the met office forecast was incredibly accurate almost hour by hour which was spooky. Other than that, can be a bit hit and miss

  5. XC weather aint very good at all. It’s US based and all it’s UK forecast data comes from online public domain information (eg, Met Office). However, it’s live weather station information is good, but it’s not a forecast of course.

    MWIS used to be quite good but in the past couple of years more and more people find it’s forecasts to be way off the mark – and I’m one of them. So, though I’ll look at it from time to time I don’t rely on it by any measure. It’s Dales and Peaks forecasting is awful at times and next to useless on many occasions.

    Met Office though they’ve always been top drawer, often you have to be a member in some capacity to see the real nitty gritty details. Alas, in the past year or two they’ve been much more forthcoming on sharing live and projected data models. Consequently, you can gauge your own forecasts if you like from this information. They’re accessible Mountain Area Forecasting is about the best you’ll find – but again with such terrains conditions can vary immensely.

    Personally, I use Met Office and the excellent NetweatherTV (take a look on it’s forums lol Fun!). Both are the dogs when it comes to information and forecasting accuracy.

    All said and done, there are always other factors to consider – such as the locality conditions and how they tend to be as opposed to a wider area. One valley could catch and form rain more than another given certain prevailing weather systems. For example, Seathwaite in the Lake District gets more annual rain than most but it doesn’t mean that the rest of the Lakes is pissing it down either. It’s it’s locality in a terrain etc etc

    Cols, ridges and so on will ensure you get stronger wind speeds than any forecast will predict for summits is another example.

    At the end of the day, two things come to mind that this weather geek always recommends to people – one, learn to understand the weather, what it means, models, systems and patterns. Two, try and become familiar with a favourite place and note how the conditions are through various weather systems.

    You’ll certainly be better placed to judge the prevailing weather from those two along with looking at the Met Office and so on in the furture 🙂

    Works for me. Think of it as talking to the local farmer who sees the place day in, day out through the seasons. He’ll know exactly how the weather will be some days after looking at general forecasts.

  6. backpackbrewer says:

    Thanks Terry,

    so another vote for the Met Office 🙂 I’ve not come across NetweatherTV before so I’ll give it a scan. I have a trip coming up this week so I will take the opportunity to do a bit of a sweepstake with the different forecast sites. That’ll be fun! 😀

    I definitely agree with you on the local knowledge on prevailing conditions. When I used to walk in the Brecon Beacons as a teenager, I became very attuned to the general weather and the localised weather. I could “feel” a storm coming on and generally knew how bad and how long it would last. Although I am now walking alot in the BB’s again, I dont seem to have become quite so attuned to the weather as I used to be. Probably age 😦

  7. For short term, MetOffice and MWIS, both tend to offer a more rounded picture as they use different models (ECM/UKMO for the MetOffice, GFS for MWIS). For medium term, MetO mid-range updates are good to indicate possible trends. For longuer term, I consult a lot Netweather, particulalry the technical model thread and the stratospheric warming thread which are a goldmine to find out about teleconnections markers for weather 4/6 weeks if not further away trends. I know who to read there and a blend of their analysis offer me a potent tool to identify what period could be of interest (eg colder February was on my radar since November).

    It’s also important to differentiate between short term forecast which can be very good aside from ppn (precipitations, a nightmare to forecast, particularly snow) and longuer term where trends and only trends need to be looked at.

    No one who goes hill walking will read this as a revelation but mountain weather is notoriously more difficult to forecast and a “feel” for things is a must. Localised ppn can crop out of nowhere, thundery activity can appear out of the blue, etc, etc

  8. backpackbrewer says:

    thanks for the reply Yuri. You are much more up on the technical side of net forecasts than me so I bow to your obvious detailed knowledge.

    As you say, mountain forecasting is almost an artform although the science behind it is quite advanced these days. Microclimates abound in mountainous areas and local knowledge is a superior advantage over generalised forecasts.

    I often wish, my gut feeling for the weather in the Brecon Beacons would improve to where it was 25 years ago. I feel I have lost the knack. Still, I can normally tell whats likely to be a short shower and what is going to be a real downpour before it happens. Normally, but not always! 😀

  9. Ah ah, I’m really no expert at all, I’m just good at meta-analysis (aka read the right people and know their strong points/weak points when it comes to forecast…).

    One thing I’m quite prudent about is lightning activity nowadays, I really pay attention to the airmasses in the forecast and when up there to signs (beside the obvious big flash of lights) that could indicate thunderstorms on the way.

    Oh…”drizzle”, it’s one thing down here, it’s another thing up there. A painfully wet experience in shorts on Gargareth tought me that a few years ago… 😉

    • backpackbrewer says:

      drizzle is not your friend. remember that mantra. it has served me well over the years 🙂 Its one thing to be rained on but to be subject to all day drizzle is enough to make you go doo-lah-lee

  10. Mole says:

    met office and bbc for me. the latter often updates before the former(despite being supplied data from them!) often wrong down here in the SW. I live near met office hq.

    metchecks founder owner (also SW) has been convicted of child sex offences…

    My tree surgeon mates swear by windguru

    • backpackbrewer says:

      Met office is the one for me too.

      Metcheck off the radar then
      and where does this windguru live, Ottery St Mary? 😀

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