Published: September 2, 2016
BBC weather forecaster Michael Fish became on this day the man who made the most spectacular mis-forecast in television history – even though he still refuses to admit that he was wrong.
He told viewers: “Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she'd heard there was a hurricane on the way. Well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn’t."
What followed became known as the Great Storm – the worst to hit south-east England since 1703. Eighteen people died as winds reached 120mph in places, causing substantial damage and bringing down an estimated 15 million trees. Several hundred thousand people were left without power, not fully restored until more than two weeks later.
In London, many buildings were damaged and roads blocked as falling trees crushed parked cars. Much of the public transport in the capital was not functioning, and people were advised against trying to go to work. The cost of the storm to the insurance industry was calculated at £2 billion.
Technically, Fish was correct: it is impossible for a hurricane to reach UK latitudes. He insisted later that he was talking about Florida in a link to a previous news item and that he correctly forecast high winds were likely over southern England.
But the excuses don’t wash with the British public who still think of Fish as the man who failed to forecast the Great Storm.
Not that is has affected his career. He went on to become the longest-serving BBC weather forecaster, appearing for 36 years between 1974 and 2010. He still occasionally broadcasts for regional television.