1 9 2 4 – Current (UK)
“Rockall, Malin, Hebrides. Southwest gale 8 to storm 10, veering west, severe gale 9 to violent storm 11. Rain, then squally showers. Poor, becoming moderate.”
One of the oldest and most curious radio broadcasts that have been played – with very few exceptions – four times every day is the venerable shipping forecast, a BBC Radio broadcast of weather reports and forecasts for the seas around the coasts of the British Isles.
Tracing its roots back to 1861, it scans poetically and has a rhythm of its own. It is eccentric and unique. It is very English and slightly mysterious because nobody really knows where these places are. It takes you into a faraway place that you can’t really comprehend unless you’re one of the people bobbing up and down in the English Channel . . .
The waters around the British Isles are divided into 31 sea areas, also known as weather areas. These regions are: Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Forties, Cromarty, Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Humber, Thames, Dover, Wight, Portland, Plymouth, Biscay, Trafalgar, FitzRoy (formerly Finisterre), Sole, Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea, Shannon, Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey, Fair Isle, Faeroes and Southeast Iceland.
There are four daily broadcasts at 00:48, 05:20, 12:01 and 17:54.
This format is followed quite strictly and includes gale warnings (winds of force 8 or more on the Beaufort scale) followed by the “General Synopsis”, giving the position, pressure (in millibars) and track of pressure areas (e.g., “Low, Rockall, 987, deepening rapidly, expected Fair Isle 964 by 0700 tomorrow”). Each area’s forecast is then read out.
Change in wind direction is indicated by “veering” (clockwise change) or “backing” (anti-clockwise change). Winds at or above force 8 are also described by name for emphasis – eg: Gale 8, Severe Gale 9, Storm 10, Violent Storm 11 and Hurricane force 12. The word “force” is only officially used when announcing force 12 winds.
Visibility is given in the format “Good” (the visibility is greater than 5 nautical miles); “Moderate” (visibility is between 2 and 5 nautical miles); “Poor” (visibility is between 1000 metres and two nautical miles), and “Fog” (where visibility is less than 1000 m).
The unique and distinctive presentation style of these broadcasts has attracted an audience much wider than those directly interested in maritime weather conditions. The Shipping Forecast attracts listeners in the hundreds of thousands daily – far more than actually require it.
The last broadcast of the Shipping Forecast at 0048 each day is traditionally preceded by the playing of Sailing By, a light orchestral piece by Ronald Binge.
On 24 August 2017, BBC Radio 4 celebrated the service’s 150th anniversary.