Is it raining out?

I have (over the last few months) renewed my attempt to find a weather content 1 site that delivered over the phone.

A friend asked me last year which I used and I stated that I was a "look out the window kind of guy", but the length of my work commute, and having taken up sailing has led me to change my mind recently. After a bit of mucking around with google I came across and was using Weather Online ( This allowed me to see the Weather now, albeit somewhere else, and so enhances the 'look out the window" channel. It also offers a three day ahead view for various UK locations, but it doesn't do inshore, or Ramsgate 2. It is potentially useful for checking the weather in London before I set off in the morning.

I am still mucking around with Vodafone's weather information services 5, but these seem to be a sample service; I'll probably have to pay for what I want (which since my phone is a company one, and such fees are not considered business critical won't happen).

It also seems that the Met Office seem to want to charge for their content delivered to the phone. I can't make up my mind if I'm cross because I've already payed for it once or pleased that the public sector should recoup costs for merging content with media delivery. Of course the BBC are in the process of divesting themselves from their web delivery technology as its not seen as appropriate for public funding (or something). The ideal Met Office inshore content is here.... (.html) but I need to borrow (see stop press below) one of the new phones to see how the phone based html browsers handle it, otherwise I'll consider screen scraping it, although I'm not sure of the legality of this. [Obviously if its illegal, I shan't do it].

Stop Press : I've just done our mandatory, "how to use the phone course", written by our finance department and run by our IT department and this states that using the mobile phone for non business, non-voice services is seriously deprecated, so if this series continues, I may have to finance it myself. However, my Sun-blogger colleague (who I've never met) who writes at Hinkmond Wong's Weblog, seems to have a job that involves a better knowledge of this stuff, so check him/her out.

This article was last of the originally planned series, I might have gone on to talk about mail, but with the current screen technology 3 its pretty unusable anyway.

I consider the nexus of these devices, networks and content to be the driver for the next stage of the internet's growth so I doubt this is the last I'll write about this stuff. Hopefully some of the UK Telco or content owning customers will give me a call for help in this space, but I'm not really the expert (yet).

1. Oh No! Look a brit really does talk about the weather! Ha Ha Ha!

2. So not all UK towns are done, and I'm still looking for inshore.

3. I stand by this comment; it remains relevant for the phones and PDAs I've seen. Mail read from a PDA needs to be written for the PDA; if the author's using a keyboard, and full size screen to compose, they'll get verbal diarrhoea. Attatchments currently still make life difficult for PDA users.

The previous article is here...General Musing on phones


Try does inshore, can SMS, under a fiver every month and you can pay by credit card. Only UK, Europe & USA forecasts

Posted by Michael Yue on November 04, 2004 at 08:58 PM PST #

The best weather forecasts are those that are made available to pilots because their lives (and those of their passengers) depend on it. Plus these forecasts are free of charge.

You can get aviation weather from a WAP enable phone for any major airfield in the world. If you know of an airport near to where you go sailing then you should get a pretty accurate forecast. A nice bonus is that pilots are most concerned with wind direction, speed and visibility - something that I would imagine is also useful to sailors.

The WAP page I used frequently (even though I am an ex-pilot now) is

It is not without challenges for the non flyer.

Firstly you need to enter the airport using its 4 letter ICAO code. All UK airports begin EGxx. London Heathrow is EGLL, Southampton is EGHI, Bournemouth is EGHH, Shoreham is EGKA. Luckily the page has a worldwide lookup facility.

Secondly you need to choose the service you want. Three are generally available: METAR - meteorological actual report (i.e. current weather forecast), Short Term TAF - terminal area forecast and then TAF - terminal area forecast. Short term tends to be the next 9 hours. Long term forecasts are typically around 18 hours - useful if you are taking off from Singapore to fly back to London.

Finally you need to understand the way the weather is encoded. Google for "TAF decode" and you will find resources. (See later for a page to help you).

For example, today's METAR for Heathrow is:

EGLL 170850Z 24012KT 9999 FEW016 SCT120 BKN250 12/08 Q1023 NOSIG=

What this means is that for EGLL on the 17th at 08:50GMT the wind direction was 240 degrees magnetic (coming roughly from the south-west) at a speed of 12 knots. Visibility (9999) was greater than 10KM, there were a few clouds at 1600 feet, scattered clouds at 12000 feet and broken cloude at 25000 feet. The temperature was 12c, dewpoint 8c, barometric pressure at sea-level (QNH) is 1023 millibars. NOSIG means no other significant weather.

The short term forecast (TAF) for Heathrow is as follows:

EGLL 170911Z 171019 25012KT 9999 SCT025 TEMPO 1019 25015G25KT PROB40 TEMPO 1419 BKN014= 

Which decodes as: London Heathrow on the 17th at 09:11 GMT. Valid on the 17th from 10:00 to 19:00 GMT. Wind 250 degrees at 12 knots. Visibility greater than 10km. Scattered clouds at 2500 feet. Temporarily from 10:00 to 19:00 wind will be 250 degrees 15 knots gusting to 25 knots with a probability of 40% that from 14:00 to 19:00 there will be broken cloud at 1400 feet.

In neither of these cases is any rain, drizzle, mist, fog, or snow present. These have their own unique codes such as RA, DZ, BR, FG, SN.

When you understand the code you can read this string of characters and quickly form an accurate picture in your mind of exactly what the weather looks like.

Luckily there is an excellent resource in the UK run by a very nice gentleman called Tom Dawes Gamble. His Aviation Information & Weather website will help you to understand the code. You can look up airfield codes and then get the weather plus by ticking an option Decode TAF and METAR it will decode things nicely as in the following example of the 9 hour forecast for Bristol International Airport (where as I look out of my window just 8 miles to the south west I can see the weather is really crappy)

EGGD 170911Z 171019 26015KT 9999 SCT008 BKN016 TEMPO 1019 26018G28KT 3000
            RADZ BKN004=

EGGD: Issued on the 17th at 09:11 UTC
valid from 10:00 UTC on the 17th until 19:00 UTC on the 17th
wind 260 degrees, 15 knots
visibility 10km or more 
scattered cloud at 800 feet 
broken cloud at 1600 feet 
temporarily 10:00 to 19:00
   wind 260 degrees, 18 gusting to 28 knots
   visibility 3000 metres 
   rain, drizzle 
   broken cloud at 400 feet 

Very useful - just not available on your WAP enabled mobile. Finally a word about your mobile costs. WAPMX is a free service. To start a session, request a TAF and then logoff results in 1700 bytes being received and 800 bytes being sent. 2.5Kb in total. Vodafone UK charge around �1/Mb for GPRS data so you can see we are talking less than a penny to get a forecast.

Posted by Mike Belch on November 16, 2004 at 07:04 PM PST #

That was my first ever Sun Blog response.

The Wonderful Wankometer gave it a very low Wank Factor of 0.16

Must try harder!

Posted by Mike Belch on November 16, 2004 at 07:16 PM PST #

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