Getting to know TV weather reporter Geoff Maskell
Jenny Lee chats weather, climate change and sailing with weather forecaster Geoff Maskell
Rain, hail, snow, wind and the odd spell of sunshine – it’s all in a day’s work for Geoff Maskell. Talking about the weather is a favourite topic in Ireland and for the past decade the well-spoken Hampshire man has been a familiar and friendly face on our screens with weather forecast updates.
The BBC NI weatherman, who worked previously in sports, news and political reporting, says being a broadcasting weather forecaster is “his perfect job”.
“I find that there's a real challenge in telling the weather story in a fresh, interesting way every day,” says Maskell, who, before moving to Belfast in 2013 was presenting the early breakfast bulletins in the East Midlands.
“I always struggled as a journalist with the terror of the morning news meeting. What I've always been good at is story treatments.
“Weather forecasting suits me down to the ground because the story is always there in front of me and my job is to tell it in a way that brings an understanding of the science of what's going on and how that's going to impact people,” he enthuses.
He never gets bored of what’s happening in our skies – even when he’s doing his grocery shopping.
“If you’re not willing to have a chat with people about the weather, then you're in the wrong line at work. Northern Ireland is a community. We have the privilege of being invited into people's homes every evening. Meeting people out and about is one of the nicest bits of the job.”
Maskell admits he’s struggling personally with the transition to autumn – especially when you throw in Storm Agnes.
“I find that sense of the days marching in and the adjustment of losing half an hour of daylight every week tough. I’m a summer person and with the summer we just had, it almost feels like we skipped a season.”
Surprisingly, on his days off, looking up the weather on his phone is the last thing he’s interested in doing.
“I know some people are completely obsessed with weather forecasts. On the days that I'm not working, I just let the day unfold and the weather happens," he laughs.
As a dog owner, he admits he has to venture outdoors no matter what the weather.
“There's no excuse to sit in when the dog needs walking. You just go out there and experience the weather in all of its variations.”
Maskell credits sailing for sparking his interest in weather – and for meeting his wife Susie - through the BBC Yacht club. From Donegal, Susie is also the reason he relocated to Ireland.
“I learned to sail 25 years ago and part of the training as a yacht skipper is in meteorology.
“When the job came up in Belfast, I thought I can do television and radio and I've got a bit of a background in weather. It was perfect.”
Sailing took him all over the world - the Great Barrier Reef, Whitsunday Islands, Tasmania, the Caribbean, Croatia, Turkey and Greece.
His favourite location was the remote Desolation Sound marine park in British Columbia, Canada.
Still a fan of The Shipping Forecast – as we spoke he was wearing a Shipping Forecast T-shirt – Maskell reveals it’s his “career ambition” is to read the revered Radio 4 forecast.
“I did a lovely series for Good Morning Ulster a year or two back looking at The Shipping Forecast and the shipping areas around us.
“It’s still a very useful tool and a brilliant way of conveying complicated information in a very short script.
And the poetry of it is just lovely.”
As well as his mandatory Met Office training for broadcast meterology, Maskell has independently studied a variety of courses on climate change and the impact of weather courses from Open University, the University of Exeter and a Norwegian university.
“I also put together a talk for the Science Festival back in 2019 where we looked at the physics and science behind climate change and got elected as a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society with letters after my name,” reveals Maskell.
Not bad for someone with a degree in Modern History and Political Science ...
“When it comes to climate change, it's quite useful to have that background in politics because so many of the questions around how we tackle it are political questions,” says Maskell, passionate about the need to address one of the biggest challenges of our time.
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“Northern Ireland has one of the great success stories in terms of renewable energy. We went from zero to being a world leader in terms of generating wind energy, but we haven't built a significant wind farm in the north of Ireland in 15 years.
“There are very committed individuals doing great things here and some brilliant Northern Irish businesses doing amazing research and coming up with incredible solutions, but it needs coordination and political leadership.
“The biggest role that we as individuals can play is to demand better of our politicians, our institutions and the companies that we buy products from and make sure they understand that climate change is something that needs to be acted upon now.”
Maskell often visits primary schools to discuss our planet, climate change and the weather.
“The transition to a zero carbon economy is very much going to be the drumbeat of their lives. It's going to impact the kind of cars that they drive, the kind of homes that they live in and the kind of jobs that they do.”
This weekend, he is delighted to be introducing the screening of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs in Belfast’s Ulster Museum as part of the Cinemagic Film & Television Festival and answering questions from young audience members.
“If you can explain complex weather patterns to children, you can pretty much do anything on the telly,” he laughs.
TV viewers see Maskill pointing to maps – in reality he’s standing in front of blank green screens. How does he find that challenge?
“You can see the graphics in front and to the side, so it’s that basic skill of journalism – talk about what you can see in front of you. And like any skill, the more you practice, the easier it gets.”
Whilst some weather forecasters seem to have taken a more casual dress code, Maskell usually appears on our screens sharply dressed, sporting a suit, shirt and tie.
“I think in general the world has become a bit more casual since Covid. I tend to be a bit more relaxed on the weekend forecasts and certainly in high summer, the only people wearing a suit and tie on a Saturday are wedding guests.”
I couldn’t end our conversation without trying to tease out a weather prediction for the winter ahead.
“I wouldn't be prepared to forecast any further than five days ahead,” says Maskell, admitting that despite having the very best technology available, meteorologists, and weather forecasters, don’t always get it right.
“We will soon be into the season of "Is it going to be a white Christmas?". It’s the most popular question that a weather presenter is ever asked,” he laughs.
Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, introduced by Geoff Maskell is on Sunday October 1 at 11.15am. For tickets and full programme visit Cinemagic.org.uk