Environment

‘Sun and heat are not always good news’: How the role of British weather presenters is changing with the climate

With the UK heatwave returning, weather presenters are perhaps better positioned to see the changes over time. So how do they see it?

BBC Weather presenter Tomasz Schafernaker has seen how the climate has affected his work over the last 20 years. Image: BBC

Remember when you’d flip over to the weather and predictions of “sunny skies ahead” would be delivered with smiles all-round, maybe even followed by a “shake out those picnic blankets”? 

Britain is entering another scorching hot summer, described by the Met Office as having the potential to be even hotter than last year. And with 40C weather a new reality for Britain, as seen on the hottest day ever recorded last July, forcing even ice-cream vans to close shop, alarm bells are ringing again. 

Temperatures recently rose to 32C in parts of the country, and we’re less than two weeks into the British summer. 

But how does it feel to deliver this increasingly alarming news? In 2019, The Guardian announced it was changing its language around the climate to reflect the severity of the situation, advising journalists to refer to the “climate emergency” or “climate crisis” instead of “climate change”. 

The BBC, a year earlier, issued guidance to staff to “beware of false balance” when reporting on climate change. “As climate change is accepted as happening, you do not need a ‘denier’ to balance the debate,” it read, as reported by Carbon Brief. 

BBC Weather meteorologist Tomasz Schafernaker has spent two decades describing sunny skies and chilly mornings, starting out as the youngest man to present the BBC Weather. 

We asked him how his role has changed with the changing climate. 

How long have you been a weather presenter and how has the weather changed in that time?

Longer than I care to admit, twenty years have flown by at a rate of knots! And what appears to be changing just as rapidly is our climate. 

As a student in the late 1990s and early 2000s, these changes were already evident. Now, our seasons are exhibiting more extreme characteristics, and records are being broken more frequently. 

I have particularly observed how one season can be exceptionally hot and dry, while the following one becomes distinctly wet.

Have you noticed a change in the remit of your job – from sharing information to issuing warnings and advice on how people can look after themselves? Change in language? Change in purpose?

I believe that technology, more than anything else, is changing the way we approach our jobs. When I began presenting national weather in 2006, we didn’t have apps, and mobile phones weren’t as advanced as they are now. Currently, forecasts are available every hour, and it’s quite a challenge to ensure our television output remains consistent with all the digital information.

While our language remains largely the same, we have adapted it to include references to climate change. We must be mindful that prolonged periods of sun and heat are not always good news. Additionally, when I look back at YouTube videos of forecasts from the 1990s, I notice that we sounded a “little less formal” and more relaxed.

How do you find the balance between conveying the reality of the situation of dangerous rising temperatures, and not being alarmist?

When extreme temperatures occur, it’s never good news. However, there are often areas in the UK where the weather is much more comfortable, highlighting that it’s not “all bad” is important. It’s a balance that we assess on a daily basis.

How do you personally protect yourself from succumbing to climate anxiety?

Although climate change and extreme weather is concerning, I don’t personally experience serious anxiety about it. I believe that understanding an issue, such as this scientific topic, provides a sense of perspective regarding the challenges we face. While there is still much to be done, I am optimistic that we will ultimately adapt to climate change in areas where mitigation is not possible. 

We must make our best efforts to do so. Sadly, it will be more challenging for some countries than others, and that is indeed worrying.

What’s it like actually doing your job – in the studio, travel – during very hot days? Any challenges?

Every day is different. The weather literally determines how my day will unfold. Our busiest days usually occur in the winter when it snows or during stormy weather. So, summertime is generally more relaxed. However, one thing I absolutely dislike is being on a stuffy tube during heatwaves… it’s absolutely horrendous!

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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