We, in Britain, are obsessed with the weather. We like to gossip about the climate in our country, searching out forecasts that either scaremonger or satiate, so that we can win arguments or at least fuel conversations about how weathery the weather is going to be. Rest assured, when your grandad retired, he did so with the pleasing satisfaction that he’d be able to watch the skies all day long, occasionally turning to your gran to say, “Looks overcast.”
Why do we care? Maybe it’s because we feel the need to fill awkward silences, and the easiest source of inspiration is just looking up and pointing. Or maybe it’s because – aside from occasionally horrendous floods – we don’t really get tsunamis, twisters, hurricanes, tropical storms, or typhoons in Britain. So while other nations may look at the weather purely for information or as a source of concern, we seem to have developed this strange, irritable and whimsical relationship with it, like a shitty soap opera whose best writers left after series one, but we're still inextricably committed to watching every night in the hope that someone gets their face blown off in the pub for the Christmas special.
The very British combination of our obsession with the skies, our cultural dedication to putting large scale music events on in fields, and the desperate, screaming sound that is the editorial voice of our biggest media outlets, means Glastonbury has now become one of the biggest UK weather events of the year. And we’ve already seen numerous contrasting forecasts, terrifying threats of thunderstorms, and panic-inducing videos (see below) of the festival site flooding before it's even opened.
But, with just over 48 hours to go, what is actually going to happen? Do you buy wellies that go over your forehead, or is it all just a load of bullshit exaggeration made buzzworthy, because, let’s face it, you couldn’t even buy clicks for a headline that reads: “It May or May Not Rain at Glastonbury This Year”.
We decided the best thing to do was the call up the Channel Four weatherman Liam Dutton, and basically interrogate him until we got some truths. Here are the truths.
Noisey: Hi Liam. Are you going to Glastonbury this year?
Liam: No, I’m not. I went a few years back, but not this year.
There are so many different forecasts out there right now. Give it to me straight: what is the weather going to be like at Glastonbury 2016?
Well, I think it’s going to stay pretty mixed. I know that sounds like a cop out, but it’s one of those scenarios where there will be a day that’s okay and one that is not okay. Shall I take you through day-by-day?
Yeah, why not.
So, Wednesday: probably cloudy in the morning with some light rain. The sun should come out later. But Thursday is the biggest headache of all the days. There is a split in the different weather computer models that produce the forecast. Some think just light rain, others think thunderstorms. At the moment, it seems like it’s going to be clouds, with a couple of showers, and a 40% chance of thunderstorms. If there is lightning, then there will be issues for power supplies, the stage etc.
Friday and Saturday are probably okay. Sunny spells, couple of showers, but mostly dry. And then Sunday is a mixture of clouds and sunshine. Each day will be different, but Thursday is the ‘watch this space’ day. A big pain in the backside, potentially.
Why are all the Glastonbury forecasts so radically different from eachother?
Weather forecasts are produced every six hours, so you get new information four times a day. If you bear in mind that newspapers will write a story overnight, then by the time people read that there have been at least two new bits of information that have come out. Something that is printed can often be out of date by the time anyone sees it.
So, we should sack off the newspapers and use weather apps?
Well, the other reason for different opinions is that different apps use different weather computer models, so if each one is saying something different then that is reflected. Some apps use a blend of weather computer models though, which gives a better feel for things.
Is it pointless for us to religiously check the weather before heading this year? Aside from knowing to bring wellies and a waterproof.
It depends on the situation. The weather screams messages in the winter, but in the summer it whispers them. In winter, you can tell that, say, there’s a big low pressure coming, or it’s definitely going to be windy – the weather is definite and active. In the summer, the weather is like someone whispering. It’s wishy washy, and projections aren’t as strong. Which is why the forecasts might seem quite whimsical at the moment. That’s the headache we have about Thursday at Glastonbury. There is this big area of thunderstorms in France which could move northwards. But it’s a question of where they are going to go.
We’ve seen videos of flooded areas from the festival site already. Do you think they will dry out by the time most arrive on Thursday?
It’s a tricky one. People focus on what the weather is going to do, but we shouldn’t forget what the weather has been already. Last week we had showers and thunderstorms. June overall has been wetter than normal across England. It’s not just a case of will it rain at Glastonbury. It’s a case of what has the weather already been doing so far. The thing with Glastonbury is… the ground doesn’t need to be that wet to be muddy, because you have hundreds of thousands trampling over it x amount of times. So even if it doesn’t rain much this week, it’s still going to be quite muddy.
Okay, now I’m just going to ask you a series of other random questions because I’ve never spoken to a weatherman before. What kind of rain is the worst rain?
I would say… thunderstorm rain in the summer. The air is really humid, so the rain drops tend to be bigger and you get drenched a lot quicker.
Do you like rain?
I have no issues with walking in the rain, as long as I don’t need to be anywhere important. It’s quite therapeutic, even when you’re indoors staring at it.
Is it ever too cold to snow?
The colder it gets, the drier the air gets, which means it has less ability to hold any moisture. So, it can snow at ridiculous temperatures, but it becomes harder for it to do so. You get more snow when temperatures are between 2 and -10. Below that, it’s often too dry.
Is British weather even interesting, or do you ever wish you were a weatherman somewhere else?
Being a weatherman in the UK is great. There is always something going on. People here are obsessed by it. You stand at the bus stop, and you hear people talking about it. It’s ingrained. We have the seasons too, so it’s always changing, and there is always something to talk about. It’s the best place in the world to be a weatherman.
If a cow lies down is it going to rain?
No. That would be great though. Then I could just use cows to do my job.
Seriously, where the fuck does wind come from? The clouds? The Sun? The planets? God?
Okay, so… wind is driven by differences in pressure in the atmosphere. You know when we say we have high pressure or low pressure? When we have high pressure, it means that the air is descending – the pressure is high because it is pushing down on the earth so the air is sinking. Somewhere else you have low pressure, which means there is not as much force pushing down on the ground, so it’s rising. So… if you have air going down in one place and up in another place, then that is how you get wind.
Of all the post-apocalyptic weather destruction films you’ve seen, what is the most logically possible?
I don’t watch them. People get too annoyed when I point out what is scientifically possible. So I avoid them.
How come we can tweet Tim Peake in space but we still don’t 100% know when it is going to rain?
I would say that it’s because our planet is so complicated. At the moment, a five day forecast is right 85% of the time. We’re almost there. But it won’t ever be 100% accurate, in the near future anyway. There are so many variables. 100% accuracy is a difficult task, even with the most amazing supercomputers in existence.
I’ve never thought about it like that, but I guess your job is simply trying to predict the future. That’s probably quite hard.