An Introduction to the Work of the Met Office Dr Vicky Pope, Head of Science and Technology Futures
Vice – Admiral Fitzroy (Captain of Darwin’s ship Beagle) in 1854 noted patterns in the weather. Weather forecasting was then under the Board of Trade) He produced a chart of the great October storm in 1859 and invented a barometer to be used in port before setting out and another for use at sea. He was appointed head of a new department to deal with the collection of weather data. The Shipping Forecast is now broadcast on radio every 6 hours and is available 24/7 on the Met Office website.
Dr Pope gave the following historical events:
The first official weather forecast was made in 1923 printed in The Times
In 1944 the Met Office forecast the weather for the D Day landings and saved many lives by delaying invasion by 24 hours.
In 1959 the first televised forecast was shown and the first computer generated forecasts were shown from the Met Office in Bracknell.
In the 1980s Stratospheric dynamics were introduced and the hole in the ozone layer was discovered.
In 1990 the Met Office moved to Exeter and Margaret Thatcher opened the Hadley Centre which is in use today. Work continued using scientific data for modelling weathers which were translated into useable maps and charts.
She explained the process of progression from 1) taking scientific measurements to 2) evidence supporting policy to 3) informing the public.
Sometimes the information needed is not available and so procedures have to be changed. Following the severe flooding in Tewksbury in 2007, which had not been forecast, a Flood Forecasting Centre has been set up.
The Met Office partners many organisations including: supermarkets, emergency agencies and first responders, water companies, airlines and other transport companies, organised sporting events ( including the London Olympics and Wimbledon ), energy companies(eg. advising on the positioning of wind farms) and defence services worldwide.
Measurements are taken using a variety of equipment; ground – based weather stations, air balloons, floating buoys and now satellites and are fed into increasingly large and powerful computers. There are 106 million daily observations. Dr Pope commented that the science is generally ahead of what the computers can provide. It requires 20 models to get enough information in order to describe a probability .However, the mega computer does solve the equations that describe the atmosphere, and Met office models help other weather services around the world.
Technical Futures: The second of Dr Pope’s responsibilities.
This involves studying air quality and climate change, which means looking at actions and consequences. It also means setting up an Innovation Laboratory to improve data gathering, together with digital platforms to inform and support transport policies and decisions.
Cloud observations are used for climate modelling. The airflow, speed and direction;are measured. Ocean currents, their strength and direction of travel are also measured, as is the increase or decrease of ice at the Poles. These are used as indicators for global warming. Technology has progressed and today global climate modelling is done using a ‘super ‘computer which does 20,000 calculations per minute and up to 20 quadrillion calculations.an hour. Cloud observations are used for climate modelling and monitoring weather in other parts of the planet eg El Nino.,tropical cyclones and hurricanes.
Dr Pope described how Climate modelling is represented by grids and squares from the atmosphere down to the ocean. Equations of motion and thermodynamics in time, heat conservation , moisture, salinity and momentum are integrated.. The super computer runs these models. Forecasts need to be interrelated which helps to define changes accurately. From the modelling over the past 15 years it would appear that the climate is getting warmer.
A post script – Weather forecasting costs £95m per annum. It would be interesting g to discover how much weather forecasting contributes to Britain’s GDP