I have always liked Michael Fish, who managed to pack more information into a three-minute bulletin than any other forecaster and made it entertaining too.

In his younger days, it seemed that Fish would be remembered as much for his colourful clothing as for his abilities as a meteorologist.

But for the past 26 years he has always been known as the man who didn’t see the hurricane of 1987 approaching.

Fish, who lives in Eastbourne, has insisted that he did acknowledge the storm but if he did, no one noticed.




It was fortunate that in the event there were only five deaths. There would have been many more had people been out on that wild and windy night.

Where I live near the seafront in Hove there was a veritable blizzard of roof tiles, bins and bits of beach huts flying around and it could not be seen because there was a power failure.

There could easily have been dozens of deaths in the worst wind of the last century in the south of England.

What a difference there was between 1987 and the severe stormwhich hit Sussex in the early hours of Monday morning this week.

Forecasters first mentioned it as long ago as last Wednesday when it had not even been formed. Computer modelling enabled them to pinpoint with remarkable accuracy where and when it would strike.

They correctly predicted that it would be as bad as anything in the past 25 years and that there could be some severe damage to property. They warned of power failures, disruption to transport and scores of falling trees.

Their only error was to overestimate slightly the severity of the storm.

This is known in the trade as the Fish Effect – being a bit too cautious in a bid not to be caught out.

Because it came later in the night than the 1987 storm, the St Jude’s Day gale on Monday was at its worst when few folk were out and casualties were mercifully small.

It did not come near the ferocity of 1987, being more on a par with storms of 1976, 1990, 2000, 2002 and 2008.

But what the forecasts did was to create unnecessary anxiety for millions of people in the few days before the storm struck the south.

These feelings of unease were made worse by newspapers such as the Express, which delight in doom-laden weather predictions.

We are constantly being told that forthcoming freezes will be the worst since 1963, that we are in danger of being swept away by severe floods or that we will be boiled alive next summer in unprecedented heatwaves.

Those who venture on to the internet will soon find weather predictions of a kind calculated to make the Express’s warnings look like the voice of reason.

Our safety-first culture means we are constantly being advised not to go out unless it is really necessary and to take ridiculous precautions. Even the rush hour morning trains were cancelled on Monday morning and I cannot recall that happening before.

Yet we live in a country blessed with one of the most temperate and benign climates anywhere in the world.

The contrast with America is enormous.

Hardly anyone dies from lightning strikes in Britain, whereas hundreds do each year in the States.

There temperatures often reach 40 degrees C in the summer away from the coast and several feet of snowfall in the winter.

Tornadoes hit the Mid West frequently, while huge hurricanes regularly cause devastation along the east coast.

The Met Office, armed with sophisticated computers, has a duty to tell us if it sees severe weather approaching. It would be a dereliction of duty not to do so.

But it was much less alarming a few years ago when forecasts were rough and ready.

Storms of great ferocity would arrive occasionally and we were none the worse for not being advised about them.

Michael Fish is happily still with us and occasionally is pressed into service on regional TV. He is still just about the best in the business.

But last time I saw him he was disappointingly cautious, warning about this week’s weather. And he wasn’t even wearing outrageous clothes.