Many years ago I read a book called “And Now the Shipping Forecast” By Peter Jefferson and it was kinda of strange because it was really about the weather at sea in areas around the British Isles. It made for somewhat odd reading because there was no relevance to me or where I lived at the time, although I was interested in the shipping part of it. I put the book out of my mind until I was reminded of it while reading another book and decided that I must relook the Shipping Forecast. 

The British Isles are surrounded by seas and ocean so the weather on land is affected by what happens over water and the adjacent continents, and being a maritime nation it is important that the weather forecast is correct (or as close as one can get with the weather). The first warning services for shipping were “broadcast” in February 1861 via telegraph communications.  In 1911, the Met Office began issuing marine weather forecasts which included gale and storm warnings via radio transmission for areas around Great Britain and it has been going ever since. It is produced by the Met Office and broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. 

The seas around Britain are divided into 31 areas, and are named in a roughly clockwise direction starting with Viking and ending with Southern Iceland. The coastal weather stations named in the Shipping Forecast are numbered on the map below.

Image license:  Emoscopes, UK shipping forecast zones, CC BY-SA 3.0  Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shipping_Forecast. Image has been cropped and resized. 

By some strange quirk the service gained a regular following both on land and at sea and regular listeners are convinced that the report helps them get to sleep, and realistically it is not the sort of broadcast that would make you sit up and reach for your shotgun under the bed. However, the weather forecast is very important if you are sailing a small boat or navigating a container ship, although modern vessels have much better sources of weather information available to them. 

What does it sound like? 

Announcer:

And now, here is the shipping forecast.

There are warnings of gales in Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire, Forties, Cromarty, German Bight and Humber.

The general synopsis: Low, Rockall, 9 7 3 moving northwards, losing its identity by same time. New low expected Malin by that time. Low, Hebrides 9 9 4, moving rapidly South-East, and losing its identity by midday tomorrow.

The area forecasts for the next 24 hours: Viking, North Utsire, South Utsire – Gale warning issued Oh, nine four two. South-Easterly gale force 8 increasing severe gale force 9 later; wind South-Easterly 6 to 8, occasionally severe gale 9; sea state rough or very rough, becoming very rough or high; rain later; visibility moderate or good

Forties, Cromarty—Gale warning issued Oh, nine four two. Severe gale force 9 veering North-Westerly and decreasing gale force 8–imminent. Wind South-East 5 to 7, occasionally gale 8; sea state moderate or rough; rain later and squally showers; visibility moderate or good, occasionally poor later.

Forth, Tyne, Dogger, Fisher —Variable, becoming cyclonic, 3 or 4; but Easterly or South-Easterly 5 or 6 in North and East.Rain then showers. Moderate or good.

German Bight and Humber —Gale warning. South-Easterly severe gale force 9 decreasing gale force 8, imminent; wind South-East 6 to gale 8, occasionally severe gale 9 veering South-West 6 later; sea state moderate or rough; rain or thundery showers; visibility moderate or good, occasion-ally poor.

Thames, Dover, Portland and Plymouth—variable 4 or 5; but Northerly or North-Easterly 6 or 7, occasional gale in South backing North-Westerly later. Intermittent wintery showers. Visibility moderate or good becoming poor later.

Fitzroy and Sole—severe gale force 9 veering Westerly and decreasing force 7 later. Sea state rough. Thundery showers, visibility moderate or good. Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea,Shannon, Rockall, Malin, Hebrides, Bailey—West or North-West, 4 or 5, increasing 6 at times in Irish Sea. Showers. Moderate or good.

Fair Isle, Faeroes—West or North West backing South or South-West, 5 or 6, decreasing 3 at times. Rain or drizzle later. Moderate or good.

And, South-East Iceland—Northerly or North-Easterly 4 or 5 increasing 6 to gale 8 for a time. Wintery showers, good, occasionally poor.

And that completes the shipping forecast.

(Retrieved from https://studylib.net/doc/7879599/script-for-shipping-forecast-by-adrian-plass) by Adrian Plass © 2012

You may also want to listen to 5 hours of the Shipping Forecast on youtube

Having heard the forecast on youtube I am now almost ready to hear it live seeing as I have a problem sleeping, although it would not be complete gobbledegook to me as I do have an interest in shipping and know where some of those areas are. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) I do not live next to the seaside although the Severn Estuary would come under Lundy.  (02/05/2020: Wind: Variable 3 or 4, becoming cyclonic 3 to 5. Sea states: Slight or moderate. Weather: Occasional rain and fog patches developing. Visiblity: Moderate or good, occasionally very poor. ).

According to Wikipedia there are normally four broadcasts per day at the following (UK local) times:

  • 0048 – transmitted on FM and LW. Includes weather reports from an extended list of coastal stations at 0052 and an inshore waters forecast at 0055 and concludes with a brief UK weather outlook for the coming day. The broadcast finishes at approximately 0058.
  • 0520 – transmitted on FM and LW. Includes weather reports from coastal stations at 0525, and an inshore waters forecast at 0527.
  • 1201 – normally transmitted on LW only.
  • 1754 – transmitted only on LW on weekdays, as an opt-out from the PM programme, but at weekends transmitted on both FM and LW.

On 30th March 2020, as a result of emergency rescheduling due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the number of bulletins a day was reduced to three as follows:

  • 0048 – transmitted on FM and LW
  • 0533 – transmitted on FM and LW
  • 1203 (weekdays only) – transmitted on FM and LW
  • 1754 (weekends only) – transmitted on FM and LW

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) sea state code largely adopts the ‘wind sea’ definition of the Douglas Sea Scale.

Many links were used in this article, and they provide much more information than I can. I do recommend the following as well as the links in the above article:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_state

https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-shipping-forecast/

http://www.openculture.com/2014/06/stephen-fry-reads-the-legendary-british-shipping-forecast.html

https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/specialist-forecasts/coast-and-sea/shipping-forecast

DRW © 2020. Created 02/05/2020