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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153 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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