Issued uninterrupted since 1867, the Shipping Forecast has become an iconic symbol recognised by people from all over the world. This most venerable of institutions celebrates 150 years of service. Yet still today, despite new pretenders on the block, it provides a vital role with information about impending warnings and sea area forecasts four times a day. What’s more, delightful names such as German Bight, Rockall, Lundy and Forties have become household names for many because of it.
The history of the Shipping Forecast
On the night of 25-26 October 1859 the British Isles were struck by a severe storm which subsequently became known as the Royal Charter Storm. The Royal Charter sank off Anglesey in a storm. Of 500 souls aboard only 29 survived. It was the largest loss at sea of the year and provoked a significant reaction about the need to try and predict storms to prevent ships from leaving port and heading into appalling weather conditions.
From the data which had been collected over the previous years, Vice Admiral Robert Fitzroy felt that he could give warning of approaching storms and designed a system of signals (which were lit at night) designed to give ships in port warning of approaching storms. The signals were hoisted at ports around the coast to warn those both in harbour and sailing past.
The Royal Charter Storm was instrumental in launching the start of the storm warning system which was the first attempt at putting into practice the science of weather forecasting, which was pioneered and developed by Admiral Robert Fitzroy the founder and first director of the Meteorological Office.
The system depended on telegraph. Observations were sent from locations around the British Isles to the Met Office in London. Using these FitzRoy and his staff issued warnings to the coasts also by telegraph and then the relevant signal was hoisted.
Permission to go ahead was given on 6 June 1860 and the first forecast was given on 6 February 1861. It is believed that this was the world’s first national forecasting system and the storm warnings went on to be known as the Shipping Forecast. The Shipping Forecast is therefore thought to be the earliest national forecasting system in the world. After the death of FitzRoy in 1865 the storm warnings were stopped in 1866, but there was such public outcry about the inevitable increased loss of life that parliament was forced to restart them in 1867.
After this abortive start, the shipping forecast forecast has been issued every day sine 1867, regardless of sea conditions and its basic purpose and aim of saving lives at sea remains unchanged.
The Shipping Forecast continues to be issued four times a day covering 31 sea areas around the UK from Southeast Iceland further north to Trafalgar covering the coast of Portugal. It is also updated online.
Happy 150th birthday to the Shipping Forecast.