Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mr. Blue Sky

Deserted Fields, Somewhere near Shrewsbury, August 2004

‘What’s the weather going to be like today?’

With these words, my wife greets me every morning, followed by, ‘Where’s my coffee?’ and ‘Pass that towel, will you?’

‘Rain,’ I’ll reply. Or, ‘Dry but cold’. Or, ‘Hurricane on its way,’ if I feel like living dangerously. Of course, so long as there genuinely is a hurricane on its way, I have nothing to fear; but God help me if the day turns out to be a scorcher and I’ve sent my poor wife to work disguised as a windshield. Naturally, the Internet is to blame, and in particular, AEMET, the Spanish Meteorological Agency, who never get it right; at least, as far as my town is concerned. 

Deserted Streets, Aretxabaleta, December 2014
For reasons known only to themselves, the happy-go-lucky people at AEMET always forecast sunny spells for Aretxabaleta at some stage during the day, even if anybody with one eye and half a brain can see that there’s no way those black thunderclouds will be going anywhere for the next 24 hours. That said, the more fool I for throwing caution to the winds and telling my wife she can wear her favourite sandals to work, to leave her brolly at home, and to have a nice day, darling. After all, the Internet never lies, does it? 

Even worse, however, is that for a short period in my life – twenty years or so – I actually took these blasted weather bulletins seriously, only to pay the price for my naivety. On more than one occasion, I found myself freezing to death at my desk, wearing just a T-shirt, summer slacks and sandals, simply because those b******s at AEMET assured me that it was going to be a belter of a day. ‘Aren’t you cold?’ my friends would ask, at least giving me a welcome opportunity to explain that we Brits are made of sterner stuff than my sensitive Basque colleagues. Conversely, on those days when I went to work armed with scarf, gloves and duffel coat, the sun would come beating through my window as I melted in my chair.

I am truly blessed to have friends, colleagues and students who are always forthcoming with advice: ‘Serves you right for using AEMET!’... ‘Personally, I use El Tiempo’... ‘Haven’t you tried Meteoblue?’... ‘Why don’t you use Euskalmet?’... ‘What’s wrong with the sodding newspaper?’...

It’s so easy to be wise after the event, isn’t it? Nevertheless, I suspected that maybe it was about time I checked out the competition, so last Saturday I did just that: I devoted my entire day exclusively to studying the local weather – in between getting breakfast, doing the shopping, getting lunch, washing up, cleaning the car, chauffeuring loved ones, taking out the rubbish, etc. – and comparing how accurate or random the so-called weather experts’ forecasts for my town actually were.  And here’s what I discovered...

AEMET, weather forecast, 24/10/2015
I started my investigations at the very top. The Agencia Estatal de Meteorología – 'AEMET' for short; 'crap' for shorter – had it coming to them. I was not remotely surprised to see that they forecast sunny spells towards the end of the afternoon. The morning, on the other hand, would be a miserable grey affair, with not a ray of sunshine in sight:

Time will tell, I thought to myself, and turned to my next victim...

El Tiempo
El Tiempo, weather forecast, 24/10/2015
I know it's hard to be impressed by a website that simply calls itself "The Weather", but I am a fervent believer of equal opportunities for all – unless I've got it in for them – and, besides, this site came recommended to me by Nekane, one of the nicest and, more importantly, most sensible people I have ever met. Well, according to El Tiempo, it was going to be cloudy and grey all day, and that was that:

At this stage, my money was firmly on the merchants of doom at El Tiempo. I sincerely hoped the sun would stay hidden all day just to prove my point about AEMET's never getting it right.

And so on to our third contender...

Meteoblue, weather forecast, 24/10/2015
Several people had recommended this site to me, so I thought I should give it a whirl. I'm glad I did because its forecast was exactly the opposite to what AEMET was promising. In other words, we were in for a beautiful  sunny morning, followed by a depressingly grey afternoon:

My research was going better than I could ever have imagined: three sites and three completely different forecasts! In a moment of madness, I switched my loyalties immediately to Meteoblue for the rest of my life. I had a hunch that I had already found my winner.

Alas, The show must go on, I told myself, as I moved reluctantly on to Contestant Number 4... 

Euskalmet, weather forecast, 24/10/2015
Euskalmet, the Basque Meteorological Office, is everything that AEMET, its Spanish counterpart, is not: serious, professional... and totally incomprehensible to the average surfer. Jabier, my dear university lecturer friend, has sworn by this site all his life. Unfortunately, you need a degree in rocket science, like the one Jabier has, to find your way around. For starters, you have to realise that your town is in a "Cantabrian valley" if you are looking for Aretxabaleta. I got there eventually by a painful process of elimination – Are we a coastal town? No. Are we in the mountains? Well, sort of...

Once you have reached your destination, however, and read what's in store for the day, you are still none the wiser. ‘You can expect some early morning mists... mid-to-high cloud cover... getting very cloudy by night-time (when you no longer care about the sodding clouds)... some light rainfall in the late afternoon, evening and/or night... gentle southerly winds turning to north-westerly as the day progresses...’ Are you still reading? I can't say I blame you.

And imagine the reaction I would get if, on being asked what the weather was going to be like today, I replied, ‘Well, darling, we can expect a little morning mist up in the mountains, but don't worry, there'll be a nice warm southerly wind. On the cloud front, it appears they'll be up and down all day, but mainly up. We might even get a spot or two of rain, but don't quote me on that, or indeed anything’. That coffee mug would come flying back in my face well before I'd got to the end of my summary. For all its faults, at least AEMET is willing to stick its neck out and declare, ‘It's going to be a bloody miserable morning in Aretxabaleta’, regardless of the actual accuracy of its forecast.

Fortunately, the eggheads at Euskalmet are thoughtful enough to include a simple diagram for birdbrains such as yours truly. In brief, according to Euskalmet, temperatures would drop, we would have clouds and sunshine (though we didn't know in which order), and winds would be travelling in an anti-clockwise direction:

Thirty minutes later, and even more confused than when I had entered their site, I decided it was time to pull the plug on Euskalmet, and move on to my final candidate...

El Diario Vasco
El Diario Vasco, weather forecast, 24/10/2015
Let's be fair. In this age of instant Internet updates, it's a pretty impossible task for any printed publication to compete with their Net-friendly competitors when it comes to providing a reliable weather forecast for the day ahead. Indeed, I suspect that my Basque daily only offers a weather map because this is what its reactionary readership – average age 83, and rising – has come to expect since it was first launched back in 1934. Publishing a Basque newspaper without including a weather map would be akin to making a Spanish omelette without adding potatoes, to going to your grave without reading Angela's Ashes, to starting a pointless metaphor without feeling remotely guilty. But I digress.

Being a rather small town, Aretxabaleta doesn't even appear on El Diario Vasco's map, so I added it myself – just below Arrasate. You'll see that the DV weathermen decided very sensibly to keep their options open by forecasting a bit of everything:

I couldn't really argue with such a pragmatic approach and, besides, I no longer cared. The church bells chimed seven as I grabbed my mobile and shot my first snap of the day. Let battle commence!...

Aretxabaleta, 24/10/2015, 07:00
At seven o'clock, it was still pitch dark outside, and, for the moment at least, all five contenders were still in the race. I thought about going back to bed, but Britain didn't become Great with that attitude, did it? So, I spent the next couple of hours watching the football highlights on YouTube.

Aretxabaleta, 24/10/2015, 09:00
By nine o’clock, things were still pretty gloomy outside. And they were even gloomier inside when I remembered that this was exactly what AEMET had forecast for the morning. Mind you, these were early days yet, weren’t they?

Aretxabaleta, 24/10/2015, 11:00
Hallelujah! By eleven o’clock, the Basques of Aretxabaleta were basking in glorious sunshine; well, those who had made it out of bed, let’s say. Sure, there were still a few clouds around, but right now Meteoblue was trouncing the competition. This was, quite possibly, the happiest moment of my life weekend.

Aretxabaleta, 24/10/2015, 13:00
By one o’clock, the grey skies were already back with us; rather sooner than Meteoblue had predicted, if truth be told. In the case of Meteoblue, however, I was more than happy to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Aretxabaleta, 24/10/2015, 15:00
At three o’clock, there was absolutely no change. It was a depressingly grey day, but I didn’t care too much because this was exactly the result I had been hoping for.

Aretxabaleta, 24/10/2015, 17:00
Oh no! What was this? Did I detect the sun pushing its way back through the clouds? I sensed an invisible force of evil at work as AEMET fought their way back into the race.

Aretxabaleta, 24/10/2015, 19:00
Luckily, the threat of late-afternoon sunshine turned out to be a false alarm, leaving us to enjoy a glorious grey evening. Mopping my brow in relief, I triumphantly declared Meteoblue the winner of this year's “Weather Forecast on Demand, Best of a Bad Bunch” contest.

Aretxabaleta, 24/10/2015, 21:00
Having blatantly rigged the results to suit my purposes, I visited Meteoblue's website, and was delighted to discover that this is a Swiss company, whose forecasts are, by their own admission, much more accurate than anyone else's:

‘Meteoblue provides the best documented weather forecast on the web... Meteoblue users check our forecasts daily – and they like them, because of their reliability... For the general public, we offer a free high-resolution weather forecast that is second to none...’

Need I say more? Probably not, but I will: Doesn't it strike you as odd that the distant Swiss can give an Englishman a far better forecast for his Basque town than our Spanish neighbours ever will?

Thanks for reading!


‘Lovely day, isn’t it?’ said Colin. He wasn’t going to win any prizes for this conversation. He wasn’t going to win any prizes, full-stop. For all Colin knew, there could be a blizzard outside. He never listened to the weather forecast; it was just too damned depressing. Still, the great thing about being English was your listener never knew whether you were being ironic or not, so Nicola could interpret his “Lovely day, isn’t it?” whichever way she pleased.

dayrealing, chapter 8, “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?”


Well, so much for the logical alternatives. What about the illogical ones? This called for some blue-sky thinking. Colin looked up, but he needn’t have bothered for there was nothing to look up to; or at. Nothing, that is, but a universal sheet of … well, of “nothingness”, for want of a better word. How odd. It was as if he had stumbled into some kind of parallel looniverse, rather like those children in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It made sense; from a nonsensical point of view, at least.

dayrealing, chapter 41, “Don’t Fear The Reaper”

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