Where are they now? Chris Fawkes

Chris Fawkes presenting the weather
Chris Fawkes
Broadcast Meteorologist
BSc Geography 1999
Geography graduate Chris will be a familiar face and voice to many as one of the BBC’s national weather presenters. But as he explains, there’s a lot more to presenting the weather than standing up in front of a camera.
Chris presenting a review of recent weather trends
Chris presenting a review of recent weather trends

What did you study?

I studied BSc Geography. I've always been interested in science and physical geography and this course gave me the opportunity to study a large variety of subjects, many of which still have direct relevance to my job. I remember first looking at tephigrams in a Sheffield University lecture theatre; these show how temperature and humidity vary through the atmosphere. I still use these to help forecast things like thunderstorms and cloud amounts. We also looked at the chemical processes involved in the destruction of the ozone layer and river dynamics, which has been useful in understanding the type of flooding response each river will show following extreme rainfall events.

What first attracted you to Sheffield?

Sheffield University has a great reputation academically and socially. Meanwhile, Sheffield city is big enough to support a range of leisure facilities including Ponds Forge, ski slopes and theatres along with a vibrant pub and restaurant scene. It never felt too big, more like a friendly village, perhaps that's down to the people. A city full of green spaces with so many parks and of course the dramatic Peak District right on the doorstep. Sheffield has it all.

What were some of your favourite things to do in Sheffield?

Swim racing has always been a big part of my life. I raced regularly for the University of Sheffield swim team at events around the UK, including at the Nationals. I enjoyed training with the University and also with the City of Sheffield club at Ponds Forge.

What is your best memory of Sheffield?

So that I don't get in trouble, I should probably say meeting my wife Diane, who also studied Geography at the University! Other highlights though would have to include being part of a silver medal winning relay at the Nationals with the University swim team.

Chris and his classmates on a fieldtrip to the Sahara Desert in 1999
Chris and his classmates on a fieldtrip to the Sahara Desert in 1999

Where did your life take you after graduating?

I took a year out to travel around the world in the year following graduation and had so many amazing experiences. Then in 2001 I started working for the Met Office where I gained my forecasting qualifications becoming a Meteorologist, and later a Senior Meteorologist. During this time, I had roles in aviation meteorology, producing forecasts for the RAF, and also worked in acoustic meteorology producing forecasts for the Army. For a large part of my Met Office career though, I was posted at the BBC, forecasting and broadcasting for BBC One, BBC World, BBC News, Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live. In more recent years I've been employed directly by the BBC.

You are now a familiar face for many as a Broadcast Meteorologist. What led you there?

When I came home from travelling around the world, I was in a strange frame of mind whereby I thought I would apply for 'dream jobs'. Being a TV weather forecaster was one of these, the other being a pilot! I've worked hard developing both my forecasting and broadcasting skills since. Meteorology continues to advance with new science and improvements in technology – and since day one, I've never stopped learning.

What sort of work is involved in being a weather presenter - how is your job split between forecasting and presenting?

Well, put it this way, one of our longest broadcasts is the live weather forecast within Countryfile on BBC One - it's three and a half minutes long. This presenting time is a tiny proportion of the time I spend at work. The vast majority of my time is spent analysing data; observations, satellite imagery, radar, as well as model data to forecast the weather. Each day the weather is different and so too are the challenges involved in getting the forecast right - that's one of the things I love about my job! I also build the weather graphics, which takes quite a bit of time. On the same shift that I'd present Countryfile I would also present 15 world forecasts for different areas on BBC World and also do radio broadcasts for both Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live. I'm always pretty busy at work!

On older photo of Chris sat with a group of housemates
Chris with his housemates

Is it nerve-wracking presenting live? What are some of the biggest challenges of it?

I used to get nervous before live broadcasts, but with years of experience, I don't tend to so much now.

Some of our weather bulletins have quite a short duration, some just a minute long. It can be quite challenging getting across complex forecasts in such a short amount of time. In addition, sometimes our bulletin durations are changed at the last second, so we have to be able to adapt very quickly. While we're presenting live, there are colleagues talking in our earpiece giving broadcast timings – it can be tricky to listen to that whilst concentrating on what you want to say next!

Are there any big differences in how meteorology forecasting works around the world?

Absolutely! For a start, the weather in the southern hemisphere goes around the wrong way! Low pressures in the northern hemisphere have winds that circulate anti-clockwise, while in the southern hemisphere these winds circulate clockwise. That's all down to the Earth's rotation and the deflection that this causes as winds move across the spinning planet – meteorologist call this the Coriolis force.

Weather around the tropics works completely differently, you don't see weather fronts there! Wet seasons are governed by the movement of the overhead sun northward and southward of the equator during the seasons, with the monsoonal changes in wind direction and moisture flux that follow. Episodes of intra-seasonal torrential rain can be boosted by various atmospheric waves, including the Madden Julien Oscillation – these can enhance monsoon rainfall and bring devastating flooding, or can help tropical cyclones form. Further natural variability comes from El Nino and Southern Oscillation (ENSO); the warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean and its cold counterpart La Nina. These patterns strongly influence episodes of flooding or drought in different regions of the world. In addition to all these natural factors affecting the weather, there's also anthropogenic global heating caused by greenhouse gas emissions that continue to change both weather and climate patterns.

Chris Fawkes presenting the weather

People love to discuss and complain about the weather. Do you ever get entertaining feedback?

I remember giving a forecast for Test Match Special for cricket in Southampton during which I'd forecast a shower to within 5 minutes of when it acutely arrived. I'd analysed a trough with a change in wind direction being the driver for showers on that particular day; this wind change was well modelled, and I used this as the basis of the forecast. The Test Match Cricket presenters were 'bowled over' with this forecast when I went back on the airways the next day!

What is something most people don’t know about presenting on TV?

Most people don't realise that the weather forecasts we present on TV are completely unscripted – it's all done ad-lib! There's a lot of information to remember before and during a live broadcast – especially for those longer three and a half minutes broadcasts!