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Officially raining cats and dogs? It could happen in the UK

Caroline Floyd

Friday, February 9, 2018, 18:03 - What would you make of it if your forecast said it was "fixin' to rain", or told you to expect a "cat's track" of snow?

We may find out - although perhaps not in those exact terms - if a new initiative from the U.K. Met Office - the weather service of the United Kingdom - comes to pass. In an attempt to improve public understanding of their weather information, the service is looking into how regional slang terms might improve their official forecasts. Using the Twitter hashtag #3wordweather, the Met Office is recruiting U.K. residents to describe the weather they experience in their own words.

Related: 7 weather words to use in 2018

"Currently, forecasts use specific terminology, symbols and imagery to describe the weather," says the outreach program's official web site. "One of the first things we are looking at is how to improve the words that we use [in our forecasts]." Initial results from the survey have revealed that the preferred description for heavy rain country-wide is 'pouring', but, regionally, other phrases were at least as popular, if not more so. Those in the region west of Birmingham largely voted for 'bucketing', and Manchester residents chose 'lashing it down'. 'Chucking it down' was popular with folks in Newcastle, Leeds, Cambridge and Oxford.

'Pelting it' in Glasgow, Scotland. Image: Getty Images.

According to the Met Office, some of the driving force behind changing how forecasts are delivered is that people find weather symbols confusing. "As an example," the #3wordweather site says, "only 28% of people identified a grey cloud symbol as meaning it was forecast to be an overcast day. Over 60% thought it meant it would be a cloudy day. But what is the difference between cloudy and overcast? When does a cloud day become an overcast day?"

Cloudy or overcast? The World Meteorological Organization defines overcast as being the 'meteorological condition of clouds obscuring at least 95% of the sky.' Image: Getty Images.

Dr. Laura Bailey, an English and Linguistics lecturer from the University of Kent, says the agency is right to consider using regional words and phrases. "The television weather symbols are determined by the television stations and we all have to understand them, and we might have differences in how we interpret a cloud with a sun and a snowflake," Bailey said in a release from the university. "But words for weather, on the other hand, belong to all of us, with all their regional nuances of meaning."

"Our aim is to use these words to help our research into how we can better communicate forecasts," says the Met Office. "Weather forecasting has moved on, the way people receive information has moved on, but the way forecasts are described visually and verbally has hardly changed. Now, with just a few words, it is your chance to help shape the forecasts of the future."

If you've spent some time traveling around the country, you're probably familiar with the way weather terms can vary from state to state - a cat's track of snow, for instance, is popular in parts of northern New England and the Midwest, and refers to a light snowfall ('enough to track a cat'). While it's unlikely the National Weather Service would adopt a similar practice to incoporate American slang (the U.S. is about 40 times bigger than the U.K., for one thing), you have to admit, it'd make for some interesting weather icons.

Sources: UK Met Office | University of Kent | Mental Floss |

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