Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Shipping Forecast

    The Shipping Forecast is a weather bulletin used by the fishermen and sailors which also has importance for many coastal communities. This maritime forecast informs people of the state of the waters surrounding the British Isles. This way, anyone who lives near the coast or navigates on the sea can be informed of the sea’s state all day long. This forecast is therefore very useful to whoever decides to go on a maritime journey because it can prevent unfortunate accidents.

     After a storm in October 1859 leading to the loss of 450 lives, the then-Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy introduced a new service intended to warn the shippers about future weather. In February 1861, he managed to design a system of signals which could warn sailors about storms: the first shipping forecast was born.

   Nowadays, the broadcast can be listened to on BBC Radio 4 which allows (thanks to its longwave signals) all sailors around the British Isles to receive the news about the weather at anytime. The Shipping Forecast is issued four times a day and covers a period of 24 hours. It begins with gale warnings and is followed by a general synopsis and a forecast for each of the different sea areas, including wind direction and strength, weather and visibility. On Friday 30 May 2014, for the first time in more than 90 years, the BBC could not broadcast The Shipping Forecast, which was read out but not properly transmitted. Here is one of those forecasts.

    Even if The Shipping Forecast is primarily intended for the seafarers, the forecast has acquired an important audience of many more listeners than those who actually need it. At some point, The Shipping Forecast actually became part of the "cultural tapestry of the United Kingdom" 

   Listening to the forecast has been compared to listening to some kind of poetry by the Britons because it has a unique and hypnotic sound that has inspired many artists. A well-known poetess inspired by the program is Carol Ann Duffy, who finished her poem “Prayers” with a line of the broadcast. Another writer, Seamus Heaney, wrote a sonnet named "The Shipping Forecast" as a tribute and a parody, and Stephen Fry had his own "Shipping Forecast" for the first episode of Saturday Night Fry! It also appears in national music, generally to pay tribute to British culture. It can be through references to the names of the islands around the main British Isles or through broadcast samples used to create this particular soporific tone. The British rock band Blur, for example, has used The Shipping Forecast as an inspiration for the lyrics of the song “This Is a Low”, in the Parklife album.

    The forecast has thus taken a huge importance in Britain. Its first use, to help shippers and fishermen with a concise description of the marine weather, has quickly expanded and now loyal landsmen and regular people have taken great pleasure in listening to it too because it creates the feeling of being part of a community.

    The Shipping Forecast ended up saving many lives and inspiring a lot of people throughout the years.

Oriana HeremansCéline Michiels, and Océane Plokain. 

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