A very British storm in a teacup….


Today I am going to talk about the weather – because I am British and that’s what we Brits do…. In fact, we are rather good at it, it is ingrained into us, we are obsessed with it…. We talk about it at least once every six hours, 70% of us check the weather forecast daily….


Actually, contrary to Worldwide belief, our weather is not that bad, it’s usually temperate…. It’s just that when extreme conditions do come along, we are unprepared and ill equipped. Here’s the problem : it is unpredictable…. Where else can you experience four seasons in one day….?


It is hardly surprising our weather behaves so unpredictably…. We are a nation where war is constantly raging – a clashing of the fronts…. Being a group of islands we are battered by winds from all directions:-

Artic Maritime from the North – cold ;
Polar Continental, North East – cold and dry ;
Polar Maritime, North West – cold and damp ;
Tropical Continental, South East – warm and dry ;
Tropical Maritime, South West – warm and wet….

No wonder our weather gets confused!

Britain lies at the edge of the Atlantic. Storms feed on the temperature difference between the Poles and the Equator. As the cold and warm air rush towards each other and meet, cyclones are formed. Being at the end of the storm track, we get the tail end of them. Sometimes, there can be a sting in that tail….

Today, we are being warned to expect one of our rarer phenomenons, we have the possibility of ‘thundersnow’. This occurs when very cold air moves over a relatively warm sea, causing powerful upward air currents. Cumulonimbus clouds form, those that are associated with thunderstorms – if it is cold enough the clouds can produce snow….

We are all aware of the chaos snow can bring to this country ; schools shut, roads become impassable, trains stop running, airports close….


Today a severe weather warning is in place, as is a public health alert for cold conditions…. Are we over reacting? Quite possibly – but we simply are not used to these extremes! A friend, who lives in Russia, recently told me they have been experiencing temperatures of -35 degrees centigrade. As a Brit, I cannot get my head around that! I find it impossible to imagine what that must be like – that really is extreme! It is no wonder why the rest of the World finds our weather obsession amusing…. All this fuss over a few degrees below freezing and a bit of the white stuff….but it’s just not normal for us!!

It’s the same when the mercury shoots up the other way….we can’t do heat either. We run out of water and hose pipe bans are enforced. Torrential rain means too much water and we have flooding. High winds, we loose our power supplies….and so on….


So, it is hardly surprising that we complain about our weather so much….but in the next breath we can be equally defensive….and nostalgic! We have a tendancy to look back on summers gone by – the ones of our childhood – filled with long, sunny days. Were they really that perfect? Or is it just that this is how we choose to remember them? The same for Christmas…. Each year we ask the question – “are we going to have a white one?” In reality, we have only had four true white Christmases in the last 51 years….! Ah, nostalgia….!


Anybody who works outside will obviously have a vested interest in what the weather has in store for us….livelihoods depend on it. We have a very good weather forecasting service in this country – we have plenty of notice when severe weather is expected…. It becomes news worthy – the media feasts upon it and brings it to our attention, which makes us talk about it even more….and talking about the weather helps us to over come our social inhibitions….

How many times has a complete stranger asked you a weather related question, whilst at the same time stating the obvious? “Cold today, isn’t it?” It is an invitation to start a conversation – an ‘ice-breaker’ (no pun intended). Or it might be used to fill an awkward silence, perhaps it may divert away from an uncomfortable subject…. If we start to analyse this and look at social interaction on a deeper level, it brings us to the ‘Politeness Theory’. Developed in the 1970’s and 80’s by researchers at Stanford University, California, the Politeness Theory assumes politeness has ‘faces’ and we in turn have a ‘face’ (wants and needs) :

‘Positive face’ – the desire to be liked and admired, not to be ignored and to maintain a consistent self image.

‘Negative face’ – the desire not to be imposed upon, to protect personal space, be in control, make own decisions….

Britons tend to belong to the ‘negative face’ group; we will play safe when initiating conversation, choosing an unobstrusive topic (such as the weather), it maintains distance, doesn’t give too much away…. Ask a Brit how they are feeling and they will often answer “not bad”…. Ask an American the same question and being of ‘positive face’ you are likely to get a more direct and detailed reply…. The same goes for American ‘ice-breaking’ questions – they will probably entail a more personal enquiry…. “How old are you?” or “what do you do for a living?” This is why the British often find the Americans rude and too forward – where as we can come across as aloof and reserved. Neither side wishes to appear rude to the other – we just have different ways….different ‘faces’….

So, after just hearing the latest weather report on the radio, this Brit is going to go and dig out her snow boots….
That is if she is to believe all the media hype….
Cynicism – now there’s another truly British trait….



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