50 years of Celsius weather forecasts – time to kill off Fahrenheit for good?

Fifty years ago, on 15th October 1962, British weather forecasts switched over from the Fahrenheit scale to Celsius. Fifty years on, some parts of the British media inexplicably cling on to Fahrenheit measures, and the UK Metric Association (UKMA) says it’s time to kill off Fahrenheit for good.

[Press release issued on 15 October 2012]

The UK Met Office has used the Celsius scale – formerly known as “centigrade” – in its work since 1st January 1961, to allow for greater international co-operation and because of the convenience of the scale. As the Met Office reported in 1962, this “led to the consideration of the desirability of introducing it in weather reports and forecasts for the general public.”

With the agreement of industry and the government, the Celsius scale was given after Fahrenheit from January 1962 as an interim measure, and then from the 15th October, Celsius became the primary unit given, with Fahrenheit retained as a secondary unit to aid the transition “for a period of several years.”

The Met Office is to be commended for accomplishing the change to the metric system of measurement so rapidly, in sharp contrast to some other parts of the government, such as the Department for Transport, which is still, fifty years later, dithering even about adding metres to safety-critical warning signs.

However, despite this early and rapid switch to Celsius-first forecasting, at the time of switchover, there was no timetable for the withdrawal of the Fahrenheit secondary measure. Says UKMA Chairman Robin Paice, “The officials at the Met Office in 1962 would almost certainly be incredulous at the prospect that, fifty years later, some media outlets would still be using Fahrenheit, and in some quarters, even as the primary scale. Two generations have now passed since Celsius was introduced, and yet we still see occasional headlines, normally in hot weather, about the temperature given in Fahrenheit.”

UKMA believes that with fifty years of Celsius weather forecasting now behind us, it is time for the British media to ditch Fahrenheit for good. “Media outlets should reflect on how they reported decimalisation; “new pence” are almost a decade younger than the Celsius temperature scale, and yet no newspapers feel the need to convert pence to shillings in their reports, and rightly so; why cling on to an even more obsolete temperature scale?”

The Met Office declined an invitation to comment.

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161 Responses to 50 years of Celsius weather forecasts – time to kill off Fahrenheit for good?

  1. BrianAC says:

    @Philip

    "Trust me I am a doctor" comes to mind. Very fitting these days.
    It seems more and more that we (the plebs of the land) are being held back in the past by the so called 'educated classes' of wisdom, no irony nor sarcasm intended.
    I am never clear as to whether this is a deliberate act of surf suppression, one of pure arrogance or just downright stupidity.

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  2. Ezra Steinberg says:

    Amazing and rather confounding that a country like Canada, which is much smaller than the USA both in terms of population and the size of its economy, was able all the way back in the 1970's to convert completely to degrees Celsius. All the thermometers, radio and TV broadcasts, newspaper articles, online web sites catering to Canadians, etc. use Celsius exclusively (and they never say "Centigrade" either!).

    On top of that all the Canadians I have heard on the radio or talked to in person confess that they have no understanding of degrees Fahrenheit (even those who have lived for several years in the USA).

    I still find it very striking how Canadian media are 100% metric. Just today I watched a very recent Canadian Broadcasting program called "The National" that discussed the perils of climate change in the Far North as it affects permafrost. All of the units used were degrees Celsius (to the point where they don't even bother saying "Celsius" any more, thank you very much), along with meters, kilometers, etc.

    Of course we don't do anything close to that here in the States (alas). I understand that. What is so disappointing is how much further behind a country like the UK is compared to Canada, which is in a much more difficult position sitting right on top of the USA but much weaker than the USA whereas the UK sits in close proximity to (and even has a land border with) countries that are 100% metric!

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  3. Daniel Jackson says:

    Ezra,

    Canada switched to using degrees Celsius as one of the first changes in 1974. They did so early on thinking the US would follow suit. By the early '80s when they finally realised the US was not going to change things started to peter out, but by then they had effectively changed weather, road signs, gasoline sales, market scales, etc, and there was no desire to spend money to revert. They continued to use what had changed but changed no more. They may teach Fahrenheit in the schools, I don't know, but because they don't use it they don't remember it. The only time the issue comes up is when Americans get angry when others don't speak to them in USC.

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  4. Wayne Sharp says:

    Hello, I was born in October 1963, my senior school years were 1975-1980, however I was always taught Fahrenheit not celcius, I am wondering why this was.

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  5. Philip says:

    There was no degree symbol …
    Sadly it's common now just to see 'C'. I noticed this on BBC TV yesterday - the capital letter C was nice and big, but it was missing the degree symbol.

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  6. Daniel Jackson says:

    Wayne,

    You didn't tell us what country you live in. If it is the US, well the US still uses Fahrenheit and Americans are often upset when encountering people from metric countries who communicate temperatures in degrees Celsius.

    If you are from outside the US then the failure of your school to teach you Celsius either forced you to learn it on your own some time later or you spend a lot of time converting. Those who insist on using Fahrenheit in the 210st century will always be looked down upon as being Luddites.

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  7. Ezra Steinberg says:

    Sadly, it looks like the USA is the only country left on the planet to use routinely and by default degrees Fahrenheit for temperature.

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  8. Ezra Steinberg says:

    Despite my previous post about the lonely status of the USA and Fahrenheit, the BBC reporting on the heatwave in the UK offers up an unholy melange of Celsius and Fahrenheit. Indeed, the Fahrenheit temperature is cited at least once all by itself, probably because it refers to "100 degrees" and thus has the "snap" of a 3 digit number.

    https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-49106092

    It seems that there is still no escape from the Metric Muddle in the UK even for temperature after all these years! 🙁

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  9. Daniel Jackson says:

    Ezra,

    I opened the link and every temperature started with a degree Celsius value and a Fahrenheit in parenthesis. The only time Fahrenheit was alone was when it stated: "The Met Office said the temperature reading from Cambridge was only the second time the UK had gone over 100F.". Whether the Met Office actually said that is questionable, but it wasn't an actual temperature they were giving, just a remark of the temperature exceeding 100°F, as it actually did when the temperature was recorded at 38.1°C and converted to a Fahrenheit value that just happened to be over 100°F.

    The only people who might insist on Fahrenheit are much older people. They may also be the only people reading the news. Reports in Fahrenheit only will just drive the younger generation away. Plus, if they want to know the temperature, they just use their phone app which will be in degrees Celsius only and ignore the media report.

    On another issue with the article, I realise that the Met Office has precision instruments that can precisely display a reading to tenths of a degree in Celsius. But Consumer Grade Thermometers can precisely display to whole degrees Celsius only. For the most part, giving out temperatures to the public in tenths of a degree is foolish. In addition, that precise temperature is only true at the point it was taken and if taken at another point only a few metres away, the temperature would be different. Even by as much as a whole degree in some cases. This unneeded precision is actually imprecise to anyone not at the point the temperature was taken. A whole number for the temperature based on an average taken from different locations around the city would be precise enough for the average citizen.

    It seems that the Met Office, the Media and the Public need to be better educated on temperature measurements and the precision of instruments.

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  10. BrianAC says:

    Daniel
    Excellent posting about the ridiculous precision of these readings. It is all just media hype.
    I noticed one of the 'record high' weather stations had spread black looking gravel around the Stevenson cage area, I will bow to superior knowledge, but I suspect that would increase the reading enough to clinch the deal.
    The town of El Azizia South of Tripoli (I have been there) often had world record temperatures, but a few years ago they were all dismissed as being false due to (according to my memory) the black rocks and tarmac runways giving false high readings. I can vouch for the heat though!

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  11. Ezra Steinberg says:

    A quick check of MET Eireann (Irish Meteorological Service) shows that their website is 100% metric throughout with no way I can see of changing displayed units to Imperial. This means temperatures in Celsius, wind speeds in km/h (with the correct symbols), and barometric pressure in hectopascals.

    Roaming around a bit across some Canadian sites reveals the same story ... all metric.

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