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A photograph of Owain Wyn Evans

'It's the one thing we all have in common': Owain Wyn Evans on Britain's weather obsession

Image: Owain Wyn Evans

Britain’s Greatest Obsessions sees a host of top celebrities explore uniquely British preoccupations and passions in an attempt to find out what makes the British tick.

In each episode, one celebrity guest presenter undertakes a journey through British culture and history, to find out how and why these particular subjects have become so embedded in our collective psyche and national identity.

In episode six, Liza Tarbuck explores why British people like to talk and complain about the weather so much. She is joined by drumming weatherman Owain Wyn Evans to learn more about why the weather is so important in our everyday lives. Sky HISTORY caught up with Owain to discuss the episode and how British weather has changed in recent years.

Britain's Greatest Obsessions concludes Monday, 17th October at 9pm on Sky HISTORY.

You’re appearing on the sixth episode of Britain’s Greatest Obsessions. Was it fun working with Liza Tarbuck and talking to her about the weather?

I love Liza Tarbuck. She’s hilarious and one of my favourite broadcasters. For me, it was a dream meeting her and getting on that boat with her. We went up and down the Thames and I just had a lovely time. We were having a lovely chat and we covered all sorts of stuff.

As Brits, we love talking about the weather. Liza was super interested and had loads of questions that she wanted to ask, but naturally we ended up talking about different weather things just because that was the topic of conversation.

I’ve worked in weather for a while now and talking about it is what I do, but talking about it in that context was very different. It was a new experience for me.

Why are British people so obsessed with talking about the weather?

Brits have traditionally had this thing of always needing something to talk about when they meet new people and strangers. The weather is the one thing that we all have in common because it affects our lives every day.

Here in the UK, we have a temperate climate which essentially means we get cold winters, warm summers and then everything in between. We have seasons, so when things change, people want to talk about it.

As someone who’s worked as a weather presenter for a long time, people just want to know if they’re going to need a jumper, an umbrella, a sturdy pair of boots, or if they’re going to need some freeze-hold hairspray in their hair. Those are all things people can talk about as well.

Are people talking about the weather more than they have done in the past because everyone has weather apps on their smartphones?

In years gone by there was almost an appointment on a daily basis to sit down and watch a weather forecast. I’ve worked as a weather presenter for a while now and it’s so great to see there’s still so much value in that. Weather apps are great, but unfortunately, they can’t really give you much context.

For example, showers are the hardest thing to forecast, especially convective showers which are caused by the sun heating the ground and then big clouds forming. It’s almost impossible for a weather app to pinpoint where those showers are going to be. A television forecast will be able to give you more of an idea as to whether they’re just showers or part of a bigger frontal system.

I think we are talking a lot more about the weather now because people are taking heatwaves more seriously. I’ve noticed this myself because there was a time when presenters on TV would say “There’s a heatwave coming up, get the barbeque ready”. Those days are gone because we don’t celebrate warm weather anymore.

You get a bit of flack for it on social media because people will call you a killjoy and say that other countries like Spain and Australia don’t have problems. But, of course, those countries are set up for heat, the UK isn’t.

People like to make fun of how bad British weather is, but from your professional point of view is it as bad as everyone says it is?

Because of our temperate climate we always get snowy winters and hot summers, but it is really scary to see how our climate is changing. For a long time, a lot of people were denying it and saying that it wasn’t going to happen, but there’s no denying it now.

This summer, for the first time, the UK exceeded 40°C. We’re going to see these things happening more and more as a result of climate change. It’s sad and really scary, but it’s good that people are now finally realising that it’s happening.

Are you concerned about the dramatic weather conditions, not just the record-breaking temperatures but everything else as well?

I am and it’s not just about record-breaking highs but it’s about all of the things that come hand-in-hand with climate change, like floods, droughts and more extremes. We’re going to see more of that and it’s scary because there are people who will be affected and displaced from their homes.

People are starting to take it more seriously now, but we’re at a point where something needs to be done. We can all start to make little changes to our lives to help achieve those things.

To what extent has weather forecasting changed to make the information as clear as possible to the public?

I’ve seen so many changes with the different systems that are used and also the frequency of data updates. Weather forecasts are based on weather models that are essentially just a load of information. A lot of it is maths.

The weather models are based on information from satellites and radar stations that the computer takes and then turns into a projection. These are updated all the time now with things like atmospheric and pressure system changes.

It’s only going to get better as time goes on because more money is being invested as it affects so many people and businesses, like the military, airlines and people who just want to know if they can hang their washing up.

You can confidently say that a forecast will be looking pretty good a couple of days in advance now, whereas that window used to be a lot shorter in the past.

One of the reasons the Great Storm of 1987 was so devastating was because no-one really knew it was coming. If a similar storm of that magnitude hit today, are we better positioned to prepare for it?

The stuff that people remember about the Great Storm is the weather forecast because someone called up the weather centre and asked if a hurricane was on the way. To which the answer was “no there isn’t”. But in the months and years that followed, there has been a lot of debate about whether or not the storm had actually been a hurricane. A lot of experts agree it wasn’t a hurricane because it didn’t originate in the tropics. It was still a storm that caused mass devastation and took lives.

If you look at it, as weather forecasting goes, the storm changed direction at the last minute and now different weather models would work out the different projections. So we are much better prepared now to deal with such events when they come.

The Met Office are great at issuing weather warnings when they are needed. Because we talk about them more, people have a better understanding of weather warnings now.

What’s your favourite season?

I love spring because I love rain. There’s just something about rain that I really like. When you’ve gone through a cold dark winter and you start seeing those first signs of spring, like April showers and things starting to grow, I just love it. There’s just so much promise in the spring.

A lot of people say they like the smell of rain on concrete. What’s the science behind that?

It’s called ‘petrichor’ which is caused when rain falls on mostly hot surfaces, like concrete, cement and even soil. The smell of the rain is then a mix of minerals and different bits in the dust that evaporate or bounce back up.

I think it’s people’s favourite smell because you don’t get it every time it rains, you only get it in certain conditions. It’s one of the only science-based natural weather smells that exist. Some people say they can smell thunderstorms, static in the air, or low pressure, but I’m not so sure.

If you could go back in time to experience any part of history, what would it be and why?

Just before I was born there was very heavy snowfall in Ammanford where I grew up in southwest Wales. I’ve heard my parents talk about it, but I wasn’t around at the time.

When I grew up we never had massively heavy snowfall and it’s quite alien to think that it happened there. I would like to go back to the early 80s in my hometown. We’ve got gorgeous hills and to see everything completely white would have been quite special.