BBC TV Weather Creates a Nation of Geowankers

BBC TV Weather Creates a Nation of Geowankers

Yes I’m writing about the weather. I’ll try to make it interesting.

BBC TV has replaced its sturdy icon based forecast maps, with 3d flythrough cell level animated weather maps. This type of system has been de norm of local US new broadcasts for a couple years (ACCU-Weather!). Predictably, there is a public backlash (collected at What do you think of the new look weather?), but some of it is quite measured, even leaning towards hardcore infovis- and geo- geek discussion of visual information density, projections and ground feature labelling. For instance, what are the political repercussions of a southerly oblique projection of the UK, making southern England appear larger, and Scotland smaller. Yet the most common complaint is the post-nuclear wasteland brown color of the land surface — England is green, they cry! (I don’t know, seems pretty dull and brown from my current vantage point). Pensioners complain of vertigo watching the weather, and others call for the return of the pre-digital magnetic icons.

I don’t understand English weather at all, no one does. It’s position right in the path of ever shifting North Atlantic air currents; and it will only get more strange with climate change (the fish are already heading north). Winds can come from any direction on the coast, and I’ve seen it shift 180 in a single day, reeking havoc on the power kite (better to check the inforich wind profile at xcweather). Compared to the Bay Area, were an easterly is almost unheard of. Watched a program on the hurricane which hit southern England in 1987, closing the stock market leading into Black Monday (don’t need chaos or complexity theory to see the underlying systematic similarities of weather and finance here).

I’m the type of person who wants direct access to the Met Centre’s models, with depth discussion of simulation assumptions and parameters (one of the mapping hacks I contributed describes how to make animations of global weather conditions). Really the problem is that TV as it stands must satisfy all viewers with just one view. Kids want their weather through the XBOX with option to first person shoot the presenter, pensioners want stable icons over a green England, geeks want XML.

Which leads nicely into BBC Backstage. They have tantalizingly stubbed in something called the Postcoder API, suggesting all sorts of opengeodata possibilities. The travel feeds already contain latitude/longitude, so probably won’t be long til we see the obvious “pubs nearby where your train just broke down” application. There’s already with a huge amount of conversation on its mailing list, most of it off topic anyway (like the great idea to great a wiki-like gazateer starting from the GNS database that backs the geocoder. Could BBC Backstage become a focus for UK web developers, the BBC Micro of 2005?