Bookchat: TV weatherman Liam Dutton
There’s a very common misconception about a TV weatherman’s working day, as Channel 4 weatherman Liam Dutton explains:
‘There is the impression that I put on a suit, rock up, read a script, wave my arms for two minutes and then go home. But in truth it’s kind of like a one-man show.
‘I obviously work in a newsroom but I do all the research in the morning, looking at the weather data and what’s happened, not just in the UK but in the whole world, if there are hurricanes or anything. Then there’s a research process and putting together the weather graphics.
‘We have a nifty blend of PowerPoint and Google-Earth and you can overlay data on it to show weather anywhere in the world over the next week or so. Then the final bit is the actual presentation.
‘There’s a storytelling element running through it all. What’s important tomorrow? Which part of the UK do I need to focus on?
‘What things do I really need to hammer home about the weekend, say if there’s a big storm when people are going away.
‘So you have a passion about the weather but also a personal responsibility to make sure that what you say in that two minutes covers everybody and it’s not easy to make everybody in the UK feel that they’re included.
‘Everybody gets their turn eventually. But it’s a great job and everyone’s interested or gets affected by the weather.’
Unlike some of his colleagues on, say ‘The Weather Channel’ Liam stays warm and doesn’t have to go out in all weathers, often into the teeth of the wind.
‘The last time I went out into the field was during storm Doris which went across north Wales and into the north west of England. That was a nasty one and sadly a few people lost their lives.’
‘Lights, Weather, Action’ is a combination of bright colours and arresting graphics by Giordano Poloni and a sprightly text by Liam. There is plenty going on on the page to delight the eye and satisfy the curiosity of 7-11 year olds, being the target readership for ‘Weather, Camera, Action!’
‘We didn’t want it to be like an encyclopaedia with things like diagrams because for a young age that can be quite off putting and feel too much like a school book.
‘We wanted to make it a fun, refreshing and engaging volume – still have all the information that children need but they can pick up the book, read about hurricanes and then put it down. Especially if, say, there’s a hurricane called Ian heading towards the coast of Florida and you want to understand why.’
As well as hurricanes the book explains phenomena such as air pollution, sting jets, weather bombs and dust devils, underlining the huge variety of weather patterns, forms and manifestations.
There can’t be many subjects that have changed so much in a brief period of time. Seemingly the weather itself has changed as Liam has been studying it because of climate change and the climate emergency. Liam agrees:
‘One strong example is, since I started doing the weather twenty years ago we’ve broken the UK maximum temperature record three times, the first time in 2003 when it got to 38.5 degrees, then I think it was 2019 when we had 38.7 and then this year, to get 40.3 in the UK is astonishing.
‘My colleagues always thought it would happen at some point, a good way down the tracks. But it was yet surprising.
‘It’s a wake-up call which explains why weather and climate are so important at the moment and particularly for young children it helps them know what’s going on around the, what does it mean and why is it happening and also how does it tie into climate change.
‘Young children are so engaged with what’s going on around them anyway and what we can do as grown-ups is help them understand things.’
One old saw about the weather in Wales is that it’s always raining, or at least that’s what some people believe… ‘It is true that the western side of the UK is the wettest because we get all out systems coming in off the Atlantic bringing wind and rain but even in Wales you can get big differences over a small space.
‘With a band of rain sweeping in off the Atlantic the mountains to the west get the worst of it but places in the sheltered north east such as Hawarden in Flintshire and you get barely anything.That’s the thing that fascinated me growing up in Wales, those massive variations over short distances.’
Liam Dutton became interested in the weather at the age of six years old and it was an interest that kept engaging him and deepening.
‘I grew up in Cardiff, in Splott and it could be raining in the city and you could look up just to Caerphilly mountain and see the hills just ten minutes away literally covered in snow. So it was all these things I saw around me, all these contrasts and wanting to know why is it snowing there while it’s raining here that led to a fascination with the differences from place to place.
‘The fact that Wales has such dramatic variation helped feed that fascination with the weather, both as a kid and as I grew older. I read more about it and then the internet gave me access to data and satellite data.
‘I grew up in an age where in parallel so much information was becoming available. It sort of fed the interest. I thought I love this, if I can get a career and get paid for it as well it would be brilliant. And here I am all these years later doing just that.’
As the book shows weather is beautiful or even invisible, as is the case with the wind. So what is Liam Dutton’s favourite phenomenon?
‘When you see a rainbow, that great arc of colours across the sky. We’re always rushing around with things to do, places to be and I think a rainbow is probably one of the only times when people actually stop in their tracks and actually look up and pause and look at the sky, almost have a moment of reflection.
‘I did see the Northern Lights. Ironically, I went to Iceland some years back but didn’t see them because it was too cloudy but went on a city break to Edinburgh in March and I opened the curtains and I could see this glow in the distance.
‘I thought they must have some kind of laser light show or something but it was actually the aurora borealis that I saw unexpectedly. I’d like to see them clearly in say Norway but there was this green glow in the sky, a sort of vibrant grey fog, it was quite eerie.’
Meteorology and weather forecasting is nowadays backed up by number crunching on huge computers and data supplied by a stellar array of satellites. So are they getting it right more often?
Liam puts it simply. ‘The four-day forecast today is as accurate as the one day forecast was back in the early 1980s. It’s been increasing a day per decade in terms of computing power. Snow, though is always hard to predict…’
The book ends on a very positive note, showing ways in which young readers can help tackle climate change by their own actions, such as turning off lights and electrical devices when they’re not being used.
‘Children can find this stuff upsetting, yes climate change is scary but equally there are positive things, things that are empowering, because they’re things they can do to help.’
‘Weather, Camera, Action! A Meteorologist’s Guide to the Sky’ by Liam Dutton and Giordano Poloni is published by Templar Books and is available from all bookshops.
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