Forecasting the weather
September 12, 2011
I am writing in response to some recent Letters to the Editor, in reference to a) content on the Bermuda Weather Channel, and b) our awareness and/or disclosure of unnamed tropical disturbances.
The Bermuda Weather Channel is broadcast on Cablevision Channel 4 and WOW Channel 100, and covers the current conditions, public and marine forecasts, recent climatological data and any tropical systems. It is necessarily an automated data service rather than a media broadcast channel, and comparing our service with that of other media-oriented outfits such as The Weather Channel (based in the US, owned & operated by MSNBC) is like comparing apples and oranges. Whereas The Weather Channel has vast private sector resources behind it, such that they can afford to pay several broadcast meteorologists, producers, cameramen and other media-oriented personnel, the Bermuda Weather Service is a 13-person 24/7 contract operation, and our local television service is primarily concerned with public, marine and aviation safety, not media ratings. We believe we do an exceptional job at achieving the most cost-effective solution to serve the needs of the Bermuda public. The Bermuda Weather Channel is only a part of the service which is offered to the public, and those who wish to examine the information presented in more detail may also visit our website, www.weather.bm, incidentally voted Best Local Website in the Bermudian Magazine's 2010 Best of Bermuda Awards.
The weather observation, taken at the LF Wade International Airport as part of our aviation weather service requirement, is included in the Bermuda Weather Channel broadcast as an additional piece of information, and should only be taken as a snapshot of weather conditions at that location on the Island, at the particular time of the observation. Whilst the hourly frequency of this observation (more frequent updates are provided during significantly changing weather) is deemed sufficient to meet the needs of the global aviation industry, I would also venture to challenge many television weather broadcasters to provide weather updates with any greater currency.
Occasionally, the data feed supporting the radar imagery on the broadcast can become disrupted, and we have monitoring systems in place so that our technicians are alerted to any malfunction, keeping these disruptions to a minimum. These circumstances are generally beyond our control and, where possible, the public will be notified that the service is temporarily unavailable.
Regarding recent tropical systems which have been plaguing our waters, we are very much aware of the entities which have yet to be named by the US National Hurricane Center (the UN-designated authority on tropical cyclones in our region). We consistently disseminate information on the NHC's forecast of the behaviour of any tropical depression, tropical storm or hurricane in the Atlantic.
We are the designated authority when it comes to issuing forecasts, observations and warnings associated with any weather for Bermuda or the local Marine Area (which extends out to 25 nautical miles from our shores). Although the tropical waves and other precursor disturbances are well within our gaze, we choose not to discuss them all in great detail because of the high false-alarm rate. Should we focus the public's attention on every system that could become a hurricane? Of course not; we would be wasting our time trying to duplicate the Herculean efforts of the NHC, who post all of that information on their website www.nhc.noaa.gov at least twice daily.
It is safe to say that, as a meteorological service, we expect to get a certain amount of criticism, and recognise that we cannot please all of the people all of the time. However, we do appreciate any constructive criticism which may help us to strive towards doing just that.
DR MARK GUISHARD
Bermuda Weather Service