Weather in German newspapers

Wolfgang Scharfe

Information about weather belongs - according to weatherman Dieter Walch - to the "high involvement information" and is comparable to information about threatening wars and epidemics. This "involvement" can be characterized by three main aspects:
These aspects are the reason for all mass media which diffuse or broadcast news to include weather reports in their news. The weather reports have to fulfil three basic conditions:
they have to be
If we focus on German newspapers of today they are published once a day only and cannot compete with radio and television broadcasting weather reports almost hour by hour during the day. Moreover, in the early morning when questions arise like "What are the appropriate clothes today?" or "What are the appropriate activities today?" the majority of people has no opportunity to consider a newspaper's weather report. Polls in this field in 1992 as well as in 1998 showed that the first places as sources for weather information for the public are radio and television whereas the newspapers follow at a considerable distance.

Nevertheless, the nowadays relatively minor position of newspapers' weather reports should not be an insuperable obstacle to consider the development of weather reports and their maps from the very beginning up to the current graphical forms and meteorological contents.
A first approach was made to divide this development into periods. 110 weather maps which had been published in 56 German newspapers between 1881 and 1998 (mostly between 1986 and 1998) were analyzed. As the surprising result of this analysis we can distinguish between three main periods.

First period
A century of meteorological maps without change (about 1880-about 1985)

As one of the first German newspapers the "Berliner Tageblatt" published a weather map in November 7th, 1881 replacing the former weather report which comprised some words and some figures only. The main components of this new type of weather report were
If we proceed to the 1930s the weather reports analyzed at that time show an enlargement of the space represented in the weather map by going much more to the North (Greenland, Iceland) whereas the size and the scale were reduced. Several weather reports no longer comprised any map legend, but in general or often the text distinguished between different areas of forecasting: the nearer surroundings as the area of the respective newspaper's readers and total Germany.
These general features did not change in their characteristic form and content up to the mid of the 1980s.

Second period
From the meteorological map to the pictorial map (about 1985-1993/94)

The situation in that period is a very contradictory one.
If we look at 20 weather reports published in 1986 in the Federal Republic of Germany we can see that
On the other hand two different features are were added: satellite images and pictorial signs.
The satellite images as examples of high tech remote sensing were put beside other elements of the weather report without any or without satisfying explanations. Combined with a bad reproduction technique they often seemed to be absolutely senseless because they showed gray regions that nobody could decode with regard to weather activities.
The introduction of pictorial signs for standard weather situations was accompanied by a lot of experiments with many errors, mistakes and relapses into traditional behaviour which seem to be inavoidable in changes like this.

FIGURE J: positions of pictorial clouds partly irritating - Paris: map pictorial sign: clouds/text: fog
FIGURE K: only 4 pictorial signs for the Federal Republic of Germany + 1 sign for Northern German Democratic Republic or Berlin ? Silesia (since 1945 part of Poland) is presented as the Southeastern part of the GDR!!!

Between 1988 und 1991 the German Weather Service presented at least five different types of weather maps:
1988 - traditional representation with small size, isobares, fronts, cloud and wind symbols and temperatures, hand made figures.
1989-0 - new image with larger size, fronts only, pictorial signs and temperature figures, hand made.
1989-1 - smaler size, image made by computer.
1989-2 - forecast map with isobars and fronts only added.
1991 - weather report enlarged, representation similar to 1988.
All these activities and changes were caused by three facts:

Third period
From the pictorial map to the coloured map (since about 1993/94)

Colour became the most visible new element in weather reports in this third period which can be characterized by a strict and consequent turn of the media to a definite service line. If we compare the weather reports distributed between 1986-1993 and the reports of today this analysis leads to several general differences:
Traditional atmosphere is represented by the "elite" newspapers only which show the black-and-white images of the past and generally refuse to join the definite service line for a wide-spread audience.