The worst weather gaffe in TV history - 30 years on

Michael Fish's 1987 weather report still defines his career.
Michael Fish's 1987 weather report still defines his career.

As Storm Ophelia batters Ireland and breathes down on the UK, weather forecasters will be exercising a degree of caution as they prepare for their next bulletin.

This reluctance to deal in absolute certainties on such major weather events is partly down to Michael Fish and his now infamous forecast in the lead-up to the Great Storm of 1987.

Thirty years on Michael Fish is looking to "clear his name". Picture: PA.

Thirty years on Michael Fish is looking to "clear his name". Picture: PA.

The presenter's ill-informed forecast saw drastic improvements in the the training of weather forecasters, as well as dramatic developments in forecasting technology.

Remarkably, the Great Storm itself battered Western Europe 30 years ago to this day.

The weather report

Backgrounded by a cheerfully coloured map of Europe, the bespectacled Fish got his forecast underway in a light-hearted manner, responding to a concerned caller.

This plane was upturned by the storm's winds which reached 120 mph. Picture: PA.

This plane was upturned by the storm's winds which reached 120 mph. Picture: PA.

"Earlier on today apparently a woman rang the BBC and said she heard that there was a hurricane on the way - well if you're watching don't worry there isn't," said Fish attempting to calm panicked viewers.

Fish then warns that rough weather is on the way, but that Southwestern Europe will bear the brunt of it, again quelling viewer's fears.

"The weather will become very windy, but most of the strong winds incidentally will be over Spain and across into France as well."

Fish continues in a nonchalant tone, footnoting his forecast with a faint warning of high winds, pointing in the direction of black arrow shaped symbols warning of 35 mph winds.

Damage to cars in London after the Great Storm. Picture: PA.

Damage to cars in London after the Great Storm. Picture: PA.

"...becoming quite windy you're going to notice around these southern and southeastern parts as the evening and night goes on."

The storm

The Great Storm battered the South coast of Britain on the same day as Fish's forecast and his predictions were wide of the mark.

Making landfall in Cornwall, the storm moved northeastwards through Britain over the Midlands , eventually exiting via The Wash.

Winds up to 120mph were consistently recorded, far higher than the speeds predicted by the Met Office and relayed by Fish.

As many as 15 million trees were felled across the country, several hundred thousand people were left without power and serious damage was done to buildings.

The storm cost the insurance industry £2 billion, making it the second most expensive weather event in UK history.

The cost to human life was severe too - 22 people were killed in England and France.

The aftermath

As the clean-up operation began following the storm's visit, questions about Fish's casual forecast were inevitably raised, and the press were scathing of the Met Office's inability to predict such a seismic weather event.

On October 17, The Times front cover read: "Wasted warnings of the storm: Demand for Met Office report as 18 die in night of disaster".

The Met Office responded to the calls by organising an internal inquiry. The quality of observations from ships, aircraft, buoys and satellites was improved, computer models were refined and the manner in which the Met Office reports storm warnings was altered.

But what of Michael Fish?

The broadcaster was perhaps unfairly scapegoated for his laid-back forecast. Fish himself insists that his forecast was taken out of context.

He claimed that his hurricane comment was taken out of context and had been in reference to a news story about a storm bearing down on Florida that immediately preceded his forecast, and that the caller had been a colleague's mother who was based in the Caribbean.

Fish, however, has since contradicted this claim, suggesting that "nobody phoned up" and that she was a "non-existing women".

His inaccurate forecast has been defended by experts who instead blamed Met Office cutbacks which left southwest approaches poorly monitored.

Rightly or wrongly, the Great Storm of 1987 has left a sizeable blemish on Fish's CV, and to this day intrigue surrounds the forecaster's role in the country's lack of preparation for the storm.

As the UK braces itself for Ophelia, Fish is still looking for answers as he investigates the Great Storm, on behalf of BBC One.

"I well remember how the press blamed me and the Met Office for what happened, as if we could control the weather."

Thirty years on, the 73-year-old is still looking to "clear his name".