I was always taken with the exotic sounding names and intriguing numbers and I can clearly remember heading off to my local library when I was about 12 or 13, to try to find out what it all meant. Sadly libraries in the 70′s were not that great, and I’m pretty certain I went home disappointed and empty handed.
My interest has not dimmed over the years and I still enjoy listening to its almost hypnotic rhythm whenever I catch it on the radio. The order in which the 31 areas are read seems to be consistent. Starting with Viking and then North and South Utsire, it then moves clockwise around the British Isles right around to Southern Iceland.
The information for each area always follows the same pattern. Wind is first, direction then strength on the Beaufort scale, then precipitation, sea state and lastly visibility. A typical description might be:
Viking, North Utsire, South Utisre: South or southeast veering southwest, 7 to severe gale 9, decreasing 5 to 7 later. Rough or very rough. Occasional rain. Moderate, occasionally poor.
Change in wind direction is indicated by veering (a clockwise change) or backing (anti-clockwise). Winds of above force 8 are described by name, e.g. Gale 8, Severe Gale 9, Storm 10, Violent Storm 11 and Hurricane, which is force 12.
Visibility is given in the format Good, meaning that the visibility is greater than 5 nautical miles; Moderate, where visibility is between 2 and 5 nmi, Poor, between 1000 metres and 2 nautical miles and Fog where visibility is less than 1,000 m.
If you’ve never heard it, you should give it a try on Radio 4, click this link:
There are also references to it throughout popular British culture. My favorites are Thomas Dolby’s wonderful track”Windpower” – Thomas Dolby – Windpower , Tears for Fears haunting Pharaoh’s – Tears For Fears – Pharaohs – Single Version and Blur’s “This is a Low” – Blur – This Is A Low
There is also an excellent episode in the first series of Black Books, where Tamsin Greig releases all sorts of built up tensions via Peter Serafinowicz’s very rich and sonorous reading of this very British of Institutions.