What’s with the Weather? Understanding the Dramatics of UK Weather Reporting

Written by Lisa Baker

In recent years, the United Kingdom has witnessed a series of weather events that seem more dramatic than ever before – and in some newspapers, it feels like weather plc has hired it’s own PR agency, supported by tabloids like the Daily Express.

Recent headlines include: “UK weather forecast: SNOW STORM WARNING: -10C Baltic blast to freeze Britain til CHRISTMAS” and “UK weather forecast: DANGER TO LIFE alert – Britain braces for DOUBLE-VORTEX SUPER-TEMPEST”.  When I was a kid, we’d simply call it rain, wind or snow (or if our parents’ were not around, ‘sh*t weather).

From apparently torrential rains to unprecedented heatwaves, the British weather is becoming a hot topic of drama and discussion. This raises the question: Are reporters sensationalizing normal UK weather, or is the nation’s weather genuinely becoming more dramatic?

Historical Perspective on UK Weather

Traditionally, the UK is known for its mild and unpredictable weather.

The country’s geographical location contributes to its varied climate, often resulting in rainy, cloudy, and moderate weather conditions.

However, it’s important to note that extreme weather events are not new to the UK. Historical records show that the country has experienced severe weather patterns in the past, including the infamous ‘Great Storm’ of 1987 – and even a tsunami in the Bristol Channel in the early 1600s.

In the days before PR, it was probably called a flood.  Nowadays it would be dubbed “The Great Pest in the West” and would probably hire an image consultant.

The Role of Media in Weather Reporting

Media portrayal of weather events can significantly influence public perception. Reporters often use dramatic language and eye-catching headlines to capture attention. This approach can sometimes lead to the exaggeration of weather events, making them seem more intense than they are. However, it’s crucial to differentiate between dramatization and legitimate reporting, especially in the context of changing climate patterns.

Climate Change and Its Impact on UK Weather

Climate change plays a crucial role in altering weather patterns globally, and the UK is no exception.

Scientists have observed a trend towards more extreme weather conditions, including hotter summers and wetter winters. These changes are consistent with the effects of global warming, as predicted by climate models.  It doesn’t have a catchy headline – but it’s far more worrying long term than a wet, windy weekend.

For instance, the UK experienced its hottest day on record in 2022, with temperatures in Coningsby, Lincolnshire surpassing 40.3°C, beating a record only set in Cambridge in 2019.  The UK is definitely getting warmer.

However, despite all the shouting, and all the drama, the UK’s rainfall and snow records are not showing anything similarly dramatic – but hey, it sells newspapers.

Don’t take my word for it – the records speak for themselves: United Kingdom weather records – Wikipedia

So I’ve got a new headline for the more inaccurate reporters who like sensationalising the weather: “MORE Weather Bores spawning FEAR as the UK’s average weather continues to DOMINATE headlines.”  Enough said.

Balancing Sensationalism and Awareness

While it’s important to avoid unnecessary sensationalism in weather reporting, it’s equally vital to raise awareness about the real potential impacts of climate change on weather patterns and our way of life.

Accurate and responsible reporting can help prepare the public for more frequent extreme weather events and encourage proactive measures to mitigate climate change effects.  The problem with the endless weather bores is that all reports get dismissed, leaving the genuine concerns to be brushed off as more nonsense.

There is evidence to suggest that there will be more coastal erosion, rising tides and those living on the coast should rightly be concerned.

Also, warmer weather, while great for BBQs, could also bring health concerns, non-native species migration, less biodiversity – and if you want to get attention, here’s something the Daily Express REALLY won’t like: climate change in vulnerable places could lead to more migration as humans struggle to survive in places where temperature rise and water loss could render some places uninhabitable.

There is already a global migrant crisis for other reasons and it is already creating tensions across the planet.  So there are reasons to talk about the climate – and it’s time that our media did it in a more responsible, evidence driven way.

Conclusion

While there is a tendency for some media outlets to dramatize weather events, this creates issues for both the drama worn public and genuine climate reporters alike.

The evidence suggests that the UK’s temperatures are becoming higher due to climate change. It’s essential for media reporting to strike a balance, providing accurate information without resorting to sensationalism, to effectively inform and prepare the public for the evolving nature of the UK’s weather.  It is my belief that the drama just closes minds and disengages a marketing-worn public.

If we expect the public to support any climate change warnings, we need to lose the drama.  In short, we need newspapers to tell, not sell, the truth.  Is that really too much to ask?