LONDON — There are few pastimes more British than a good moan about the weather, and few things more longed-for than a hot and sunny long weekend.
So woe betide any forecaster who keeps people in the dark about a brilliantly summery day, as happened earlier this week in the pretty seaside town of Bournemouth. Britain’s weather service on Thursday had to face the storm of a tourism chief upset over a botched holiday forecast which kept visitors — and their cash — away from his seaside resort town.
The Monday forecast for Bournemouth, about 110 miles (175 kilometers) southwest of London, was a gloomy morning followed by a wet afternoon. But the reality was far brighter — it ended up being sunny and about 23 C (73 F), one of the best days so far this year.
Mark Smith, the town’s head of tourism, made the rare move of complaining publicly about the forecast, which he believes kept visitors away. Instead of spontaneously heading to the seaside to pass the long weekend — known in Britain as a bank holiday — they stayed home, he said.
Smith said it cost the town — which boasts a 7-mile-long (11-kilometer-long) beach, complete with pier — millions of pounds (dollars).
“We can measure the number of people on the beach, and we know that on a good bank holiday, we’d get in excess of 100,000 people across the seven miles,” Smith said Thursday. “On Monday, we were actually looking at about 75,000.”
With an average spend of about 40 pounds ($64) per visitor, the emptier sands translated into emptier hotels, restaurants, shops — and cash registers.
After the warm long weekend, newspapers celebrated the sunshine. The Guardian’s headline crowed “London as hot as the Riviera in bank holiday sun” and the story proclaimed that the temperature in central London on Monday was 25 C (77 F), just a degree cooler than in southern Spain.
Barry Gromett, a forecaster at Britain’s Met Office, acknowledged Bournemouth’s forecast was inaccurate, but said the service gets it right six of seven days, not a bad record for predicting notoriously changeable weather on an island sitting in the Atlantic Ocean and parked near the European continent.
“If we are challenged by anything in forecasting these days, it’s summer showers, which are our Achilles heel,” Gromett said. “And this is an example of that.”
“You can, literally, have four seasons in one day,” Gromett said. “It is that variability, and the very varied nature of our weather that makes it so very fascinating for the general public, and so difficult to get right.”
The city of Brighton, just 95 miles (150 kilometers) east of Bournemouth, had a gloomy, wet weather forecast for Monday — and it was accurate, Gromett said.
Smith believes forecasters are overly cautious, preferring to err on the side of caution rather than predict great weather and get caught out.
Gromett said the Met Office will have a new computer by the end of the summer which will analyze smaller grids, allowing it to “have more certainty” about the weather.
Britain has suffered through two miserable, wet summers — and a record snowfall this winter — so predictions that this year will be warmer and drier have been greeted with joy — and some suspicion.
“Summer will have hot spells — but don’t expect too much,” the Daily Mail warned.