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Shipping forecast and gale warnings

In the UK, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) is responsible for the provision of Maritime Safety Information (MSI) to ships at sea, which includes the broadcast of warnings and forecasts. The Met Office initiates warnings and prepares routine forecasts for dissemination on behalf of the MCA.

An overview of the Met Office as an organisation including who we are and where we’re based, the work we do around the world and how to get in touch.

The Met Office is the UK’s National Weather Service.

We have a long history of weather forecasting and have been working in the area of climate change for more than two decades.

We are a Trading Fund within the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, operating on a commercial basis under set targets. Our targets are verified and publicised in this section.

As a world leader in providing weather and climate services, we employ more than 1,800 at 60 locations throughout the world. We are recognised as one of the world’s most accurate forecasters, using more than 10 million weather observations a day, an advanced atmospheric model and a high performance supercomputer to create 3,000 tailored forecasts and briefings a day. These are delivered to a huge range of customers from the Government, to businesses, the general public, armed forces, and other organisations.

Public services

This includes the Public Weather Service (PWS), which provides forecasts for the public to help them make informed decisions about their day-to-day activities. The National Severe Weather Warning Service is also a part of this, providing advance notice of weather which could affect public safety.


We are now working with the NHS to provide information on how the weather affects hospital admissions and helping them manage workloads. We can also help people with certain medical conditions, advising them when the weather could affect their health, helping them to stay healthy and out of hospital.

Transport and business

Our range of services for transport includes tailored advice on how the weather will affect roads, air and sea travel. We also provide detailed information to a broad range of businesses which can be affected by the weather, from how it will affect the demand for electricity and gas, to how it will affect sales of high street products.

Defence and Government

Our work in the area of defence includes providing forecasts for military operations anywhere in the world, often supported by Met Office forecasters working in theatre with our armed forces. Our advice helps the military make strategic decisions, plan operations and safeguard service personnel from the worst effects of the weather, such as heat stress.

We also provide a range of services for the Government. This includes environmental monitoring advice on the predicted spread of insect-borne diseases such as bluetongue, to toxic or hazardous fumes, or even volcanic ash.

Climate change

Climate change has become an increasingly important issue and our research continues to create an ever clearer picture of how it will affect the planet and our lives. This plays a vital role in providing evidence to support climate predictions which show the planet is now locked into at least 2 °C of warming and rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are required to ensure this does not rise further for future generations.

With this in mind, we have been providing tailored advice and services for a range of clients to help them begin adapting to the consequences of climate change. This has included projects focusing on defence, transport, energy, water supply, defence, flooding, health, and a host of other issues. We will continue to use our expertise to further understanding of climate change, as well as offering advice on how to mitigate the risks and adapt to its consequences.

The British Shipping Forecast is one of those great British institutions that everyone knows about but few completely understand. To the uninitiated the terminology and its forecast-speak can be bewildering, but with our brief history of the service and our jargon buster the shipping forecast can mean the difference between a pleasant cruise or a life threatening situation.

In 1859 the 2,700 tonne steam clipper Royal Charter was lost on the rocks off the North Wales coast in a Force 12 Hurricane. 450 passengers and crew died that night which shocked a nation and the Board of Trade.

It was decided that better forecasting for the seas around the coast of the UK was needed and a plan by Robert FitzRoy to establish 13 instrument stations around the coast was agreed on the 6th June 1860. The rest as they say is History. Readings from these stations were telegraphed to London at 8am each day and gale warnings were issued using a system of cones hoisted at shore stations to warn mariners.

Today the Shipping Forecast is compiled by the Met Office in its modern Exeter building using information from Radars, satellites, shore and maritime reporting stations etc where humans with the help of computers will put together forecasts at 6 hour intervals.
The information is broadcasted on BBC Radio 4 but the whole forecast has to be no longer than 350 words, hence the reason for the “Forecast-Speak”.

The forecast will start with a preamble of the time and date of the forecast. Next comes any gale warnings followed by a general synopsis identifying any Low or High pressure areas. The forecast will then detail weather conditions for the next 24 hour in each sea area starting with Viking and moving roughly clockwise. The broadcast time are – 0048 transmitted on FM & LW; 0520 FM & LW; 1201 LW only; 1754 LW weekdays, FM & LW weekends. Most Marinas post weather bulletins using the shipping forecast.

Dogger. Southerly 4 increasing 6 to gale 8, veering south westerly later. Very rough or high. Rain. Moderate or poor.

Dogger is the sea area. Second is the wind direction and force. Third is the sea state. Fourth is the weather condition. And finally the visibility.

Jargon Buster

Gale Warnings
Gale. Winds of at least Force 8 or gusts reaching 43 to 51 Knots.
Severe Gale. Winds of Force 9 or gusts reaching 52 to 60 Knots.
Storm. Winds of Force 10 or gusts reaching 61 to 68 Knots.
Violent Storm. Winds of Force 11 or gusts of 69 Knots or more.
Hurricane Force. Winds of Force 12.

Wind Direction
Backing. A changing of wind direction anticlockwise.
Veering. A changing of wind direction clockwise.
Becoming. Wind direction changing either to or from a variable or cyclonic state.
Variable. Used for Force 4 or less when the wind direction varies by more than 90° either in time or within the area.
Cyclonic. There will be considerable change in wind direction across the path of a depression within the area.

Time Terms
Then. When one kind of weather persists for more than half the forecast period and is followed by another.
Occasional. Used for weather but also sometimes for wind and visibility, and explains something happening more than once, but not for more than half the forecast period.
For A Time. A condition happening once but not for more than half the forecast period, and not at the beginning or the end of the forecast.
At First. Something occurring at the beginning of the  period and ceasing before the middle of the forecast period.
Later. Starting more than halfway through the period and continuing to the end of the forecast period.
Soon.  A condition expected within six to twelve hours of the time of issue.
Imminent. Expected within six hours of the time of issue.

Good.  Visibility more than 5 nautical miles.
Moderate. Visibility between 2 and 5 nautical miles.
Poor. Visibility between 1000metres and 2 nautical miles.
Fog. Visibility less than 1000 metres.
Fog Patches. Less than 40% of the area coverage
Fog Banks. 40% to 50% coverage
Extensive Fog. More than 50% coverage

Perhaps. The only term used to describe uncertainty.

Useful weather information centres.
Robert FitzRoy’s effort to introduce better safety at sea through weather forecasting was a struggle with the days critics as well as surmounting the difficulties of the time. In 2002 the World Meteorological Organisation renamed the sea area Finisterre as FitzRoy in honour of his work and is the only sea area (in the British system) named after a person rather than a geographical area.