Bill Foggitt (1913-2004) achieved national fame as an amateur weather forecaster, whose predictions were often more accurate than those of the professionals

Foggitt came from a family of meteorologists. His great grandfather Thomas, (ca 1810 to 1885), set out to study the weather preceding the disastrous River Tees flood of 1771. He compiled a set of statistics, including air temperature and wind direction. Thomas’s son and Bill’s grandfather William was an active botanist, and indeed became a fellow of the Linnean Society in 1903. Bill’s father Benjamin made detailed studies of the behaviour of birds. Bill started keeping weather records at the age of twelve, when his father gave him a schoolboy diary to fill in. His first entry read ‘Snow showers. King slightly better.’ Sadly most of the family records have now been lost, although some were saved by the Met Office in Bracknell.  

Bill was born in Thirsk and attended Thirsk Grammar School. On leaving school he started work in the family chemists’ business. He was not however a good pupil and became interested in becoming a clergyman. He trained as a Methodist lay preacher, but his attempts to enter the full-time ministry ended in failure. Transferring his ambitions to the Anglican church, he entered Saint David’s College Lampeter in 1939. His studies were disrupted by army service with the Royal Ordnance Corps in North Africa. However, he graduated with a BA in 1946. It was also on Boxing Day 1946 that he and his father saw a flock of waxwings eating holly berries. His father commented that this was a sign of a hard winter ahead; the birds had fled from cold weather in Scandinavia. Sure enough, 1947 proved to be one of the harshest winters anyone could remember. Foggitt junior wrote a letter to a national newspaper; it was printed alongside a drawing of a waxwing. 

Sadly, the next few years were to be marked by a series of disappointments. After being rejected for the Anglican priesthood, he worked as an English and Religious Studies teacher in South Yorkshire and Stoke-on-Trent. Unsuccessful again, he did a variety of jobs in Birmingham. He married Dora Winifred Kevan in 1946; the marriage quickly failed, and he and Winifred separated. However, as devout Christians, they never divorced and Foggitt even attended his wife’s funeral.  

In 1966, Foggitt returned home to Yorkshire. Not only was he out of work, but he nearly lost a leg in a road accident outside his home. In the midst of his depression, his mother suggested he study the family weather records. His knowledge of country lore soon brought him a wider following. There followed a long career of natural history excursions, letters, columns and broadcasts. His predictions were based on his observations of plant and animal behaviour, and on a conviction that weather is cyclical. The family records indicated that a harsh winter comes every fifteen years and a very hot summer every twenty-two.  Foggitt noticed that if the swallows returned to Britain early in April, the following summer would be warm. Frogs spawning in the deepest part of pond indicated a long spell of dry weather. Flowers closed their petals before rain to protect their pollen. He told an interviewer ‘I use pine cones for short-term forecasts … I have one hanging on the wall and when damp weather’s coming or rain or wind, the scales close up …. Seaweed works too … The damp atmosphere acts on salts inside it.’ 

In 1980, he was asked to do a nightly slot on Yorkshire television, Foggitt’s Forecast. Foggitt’s finest moment came in 1985. The Met Office had issued a warning that the prevailing cold snap would continue. Foggitt had seen a mole poking its nose above the snow and a bud opening on the winter jasmine. He correctly predicted that warmer weather would soon arrive. Soon he found himself lionised by national television and radio. Like the Met Office, he failed to predict the great storm of 1987. However, he had realized there might be strong winds. He remembered that ‘My neighbour’s cat, Blackie, went crackers, jumping up poles and into trees. That was a sure sign.’ In 1990, the English Tourist Board published a pamphlet, containing fifty of his ‘Be your own forecaster tips.’ British Telecom installed a phone-in line for ‘Foggit’s Forecasts.’ Professor John Gilbert of the University of Reading invited him to take part in a project, based on remote sensing in higher education. This became part of the national science curriculum.  

Professional forecasters regarded Foggitt with sceptical amusement. However, this was before the days of powerful computers; his predictions were often as accurate as those of the conventional weather people. Yorkshire Television’s Bob Rust admitted that Foggitt’s forecasts were often so accurate that he and his colleagues became apprehensive when their predictions were ranged against Foggitt’s. Another local television weatherman told him, ‘… I’m obliged to say I don’t agree with you even when I know you’re probably right.’ 

Eventually Foggitt’s star faded. He was working in an unpredictable field and it was inevitable that he sometimes made mistakes. In 1993 he failed to predict one of the wettest summers on record. He endured a torrent of abuse, from readers and viewers who had suffered forty days of consecutive rain. One letter writer threatened to have him shot; Foggitt felt he needed to ask the police for their protection.  He was sceptical about global warming, and more concerned about the possibility of an imminent mini ice age. 

Foggitt himself had little interest in money or in the trappings of fame. With his friends, known in Thirsk as the Magic Circle, he was a regular at the Three Tuns. His other companion there was his wire-haired terrier, Polly. His biographer Mike Cresswell said of him ‘As long as he had enough in his pocket to get his pint in the local pub in Thirsk and to meet up with his friends, he was happy.’  

Foggitt died in Friarage Hospital in Northallerton in September 2004. His funeral was held at St James Methodist Church, Thirsk. Religious to the last, the three hymns were those he himself had chosen. The Revd. Geoffrey Bruce, who led the service, commented ‘He reminded us of the world around us … He was a warm, open and quiet personality with a fund of stories about all sorts of things. He always had a twinkle in his eye and humour was always present.’ 


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Bill Foggitt: amateur weatherman who made predictions from plant and animal behaviour and often beat the Met Office. (2004, September 16). Daily Telegraph. Retrieved November 17 2020 from 

Wainwright, M. (2004, September 18). Bill FoggittThe Guardian. Retrieved November 17 2020 from 

Brace, M. (1994, December 4). First-hand: how I knew all along it would be a warm November. Independent. Retrieved November 17 2020 from 

Hortoris. (2016, May 23). BillFoggittold weather guru [Blog post]. Retrieved November 17 2020 from,than%20those%20of%20the%20professionals. 

Chapman, H. (2004, September 18). Sunshine bathes church for funeral of weatherman Bill. Retrieved November 20 2020 from