BBC weather maps coloured red as visual aid, not to 'lie about climate change'

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As Britain was set to experience record-breaking heatwaves in July 2022, a video comparing BBC weather reports from 2003 and 2022 was shared tens of thousands of times in social media posts that claim the public broadcaster "made its weather maps redder to make viewers think it is hotter than it is". This is misleading. The BBC said it had adjusted the colour scale on its weather maps to make them more accessible, particularly for people with colour blindness. Although similar temperatures were seen in 2003, Britain's national weather agency said high temperatures were more widespread in 2022.

The video was shared here on Instagram on July 16, 2022.

The video appears to splice together an old weather report with a more recent one and is captioned: "Listen to the Blatant Fear Mongering ... They are lying to you, it really is as simple as that."

Text above and below the video reads: "UK. The Insanity Continues. Check out these Blatant Lies....BBC Weather Forecast 2003 vs 2022.........2003 was hotter than what's forecast these coming days...

"Yet the map of 2003 was all Yellow with a hint of Orange, whereas the 2022 Fear Mongering Forecast is completely Red... making you think it's hotter than it is."

A screenshot of the misleading Instagram post as of July 26, 2022.

The video circulated online ahead of a record-breaking heatwave in Britain on July 19, 2022, with temperatures breaching 40 degrees Celsius for the first time. Other parts of Europe were also hit with searing heat.

Experts blame climate change for the latest heatwave and warn worse is in store in years to come, AFP reported.

The same video was shared alongside a similar claim on Facebook and Twitter.

However, the posts shared genuine footage of BBC weather reports in a misleading context.

BBC reports

A reverse image search on Google found the first clip posted to YouTube here in April 2013. Its description states it is a BBC broadcast from August 2003.

The second BBC broadcast clip was aired on July 14, 2022, and can be seen here.

A BBC spokesperson told AFP it had overhauled its graphics across BBC News and BBC Weather in 2017, adjusting the colour scale of weather maps for accessibility.

"The colours used now range from blue for the coldest temperatures through to red for the hottest temperatures as these colours are easier to see if you live with colour blindness," the spokesperson said.

UK heatwave

In a statement titled "A milestone in UK climate history" on July 22, 2022, Britain's national weather service the Met Office said a total of 46 weather stations across the country reported on July 19 temperatures exceeding the previous record of 38.7 degrees Celsius.

Temperatures on both July 18 and 19 breached 38 degrees Celsius, with only two other dates -- August 10, 2003 and July 25, 2019 -- surpassing this threshold.

But the Met Office noted that even though the same temperature was seen on previous dates, the heat was far more widespread in 2022 than it was before.

"The heatwave experienced [in July 2022] in the UK is unique in the historical record because it is the first time that the maximum UK temperature has exceeded 40°C, with records for Wales and Scotland also broken on the same day," said Freya Garry, a senior scientist in the UK Climate Resilience team at the Met Office.

Garry said that would be an unlikely scenario "without the influence of greenhouse gases from the burning of oil, coal and gas."

Europe experienced its warmest summer on record in 2021, reported the Climate Change Service (C3S) of European observation service Copernicus, with temperatures at one degree Celsius above the 1991-2020 average.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) latest reports in 2021 and 2022 -- authored by more than 200 scientists from 66 countries -- notes that: "It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land."

The reports call for urgent measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions to avoid catastrophic global warming.

The claim that television weather maps were coloured red to exaggerate the effects of climate change has spread widely on social media. A similar claim in Sweden was debunked by AFP here.

AFP has debunked other claims that downplay global warming or the role of humans in contributing to climate change here.