Sunday, 28 December 2008

Very Cold December

It’s been the coldest start to December since 1976. Very cold Decembers are not uncommon but a little unusual as our coldest months in the UK are usually January and February. I was talking about the cold weather to some friends over Christmas and we got on to talking about why we can feel hot or cold. I don’t mean that the heating isn’t on or there’s a freezing wind outside, I mean where the sensation of heat actually comes from.

Well, something feels hot to us because the atoms inside it are moving fast, and when it feels cold they are moving slowly. We interpret this movement through the feeling of something being hot or cold, and a thermometer interprets as a certain temperature, in for example degrees Centigrade of Fahrenheit.

Scientists often use Kelvin as a measure of temperature rather than deg C or deg F. The bottom of the Kelvin scale is 0 K or Absolute Zero. What got me thinking about this recently was my God Son who asked me what is Absolute Zero. I was able to give the temperature 0 K or -273.15°C, but not the definition. It’s one of those things that I am sure I did know and could make a reasonable guess of what I thought it was, but to be precise I looked it up for myself. And it is as you might guess a point at which no more heat exists.

What that means specifically in classical kinetic theory is that there should be no movement of individual molecules at Absolute Zero. In practice we don’t of course know this as we have never been able to observe anything at 0 K, but we have come close in the laboratory. The experimental evidence shows us that as we reduce temperatures close to 0 K molecules do slow right down, but there is still movement.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Mountain Meteorology in Action

I was lamenting on what a bad decision it was not to take my new watch (re Blog of 12th October 2008) on my recent trip to Peru and the chance I would have had to give it a good test out in the Andes and to take a meteorological observation in Machu Picchu (what a fantastic place to visit by the way – twice as good as any photos you might have seen).

Fortunately the plane I travelled in was an Airbus with one of those screens that gives you temperature at different altitudes, so on take-off and landing I had the chance to record some upper air observations, and here are a couple below relating to my landing and then take-off at Lima airport:

You can see that they certainly do not conform to the ‘standard atmosphere’ (as defined by the International Civil Aviation Authority) of temperature changing by around 6°C per kilometre. Coming into Lima (blue line) you can see a warm layer of air just below 2 km that extends right down to about 700 m.

The flight from Lima into Cusco was an example of some of the challenges that aircraft have at high altitude. The landing is very spectacular as the plane circles around the mountains and comes into land in a shallow valley at around 3,600 m. You can hear the engines at high revs in the closing turns to maintain the lift they need to turn in the much thinner air (lower air pressure).

I was hoping to see some of my favourite lenticular clouds in the mountains, but not this time. However I did see some amazing cloud formations. Here is one example below; along with a picture I took at sunrise coming through the clouds as I travelled out of Cusco on a train to Machu Picchu.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

My New Meteorological Watch

With one thing and another it has been a while since I last put ‘finger-to-keyboard’ so to speak, but felt I should share a few thoughts about my new meteorological watch.

At my age it is not often I get excited about my birthday (perhaps that is just because I am a bit miserable, as my wife reminds me), but this year I had a very exciting present – no not a vintage Harley Davidson bike, an antique Les Paul guitar, or tickets to see Catherine Jenkins in concert (front row seats); it was a meteorological watch. Yes, you did read correctly a watch that makes observations of the weather. I have had much fun with this, making observations of temperature pressure and altitude. It reminded me of a few things apart from how hopeless I am at finding out how it all works.

The first was how careful you have to be when making observations, to understand what is being observed (like the temperature of the atmosphere, or my wrist), and that the observations are well calibrated. I am waiting to my next blue sky day at the coast to set my altitude and pressure calibrations.

The second was that what I am measuring is all inter-related. Pressure, temperature and humidity are all related. For example in the troposphere, a very small layer of the earths atmosphere relatively speaking that is closest to the surface of the earth and where we have all of our weather, pressure decreases with height in the atmosphere and so does temperature, by roughly 6oC per kilometre (if we make some assumptions about what we call a standard atmosphere). I wonder whether my watch really does measure temperature, pressure and altitude independently or whether, as I suspect, it uses some of our understanding of how these things are linked.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Paint the whole world with a Rainbow

When you have lots of sunshine and showers around like we’ve had recently (well OK we’ve had more showers than sunshine) then it’s ideal conditions for rainbows. We see rainbows when the sun shines through the raindrops. More precisely the sunlight is refracted in the raindrop and is split into the different colours that make up the sunlight – you might remember doing something similar in the school science lesson when you shine a bright light through a prism (a glass pyramid). The refracted light is then reflected off the back of the raindrop at an angle of around 42o, which defines the angle in the sky that we see the rainbow. The blue light is a shorter wavelength and so is refracted at a bigger angle than the longer wavelength red light, which means that in the bow you see the red at the top and the blue near the bottom.

Sometimes you can see a secondary rainbow and I’ve included a picture above I took of a primary and secondary rainbow this year in Cornwall. The secondary rainbow occurs when the light undergoes a double reflection in the raindrop. Because this is a second reflection the colours occur upside down compared to the primary rainbow, and they are dimmer. We call the area in between the two bows Alexander’s band after the ancient Greek Alexander of Aphrodisias who wrote about it. It is possible on very rare occasions to see a third bow, but as by this stage the light is very dim and it appears in the direction of the Sun it is extremely difficult to spot.

There are a few different mnemonics that help you remember the seven colours of the rainbow, but my favourite is ‘Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain’ – that’s Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

Rainbows have been talked about for many years. The ancient Greeks wrote about rainbows as a path made by Iris (the messenger of the Gods) between heaven and earth. Chinese mythology speaks of a slit in the sky sealed by the Goddess Nüwa using stones of five different colours. The Bible in the story of Noah talks about the rainbow of a sign from God that life would never again be destroyed by floods. But perhaps the most famous is that the Leprechauns keep their pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Unfortunately you will never reach the end of the rainbow for two reasons. The first is that because it’s an optical effect then it moves as you move and so you can never reach the bottom. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, a rainbow is really a circle, it’s just that we see half of it.

There are two things that stick in my mind most about rainbows. The first is the fantastic painting by Constable of Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows. I first saw it in the National Gallery, and read about the painting of it in a great book by John Thornes (called John Counstable’s Skies, which I can definitely recommend to you). My second abiding memory is from the Wordsworth poetry I studied at school. His 1802 poem "My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold The Rainbow" begins:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!…

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

How do I follow a career in Meteorology and do I need a degree in Meteorology to become a Meteorologist

Download Paul's BBC Radio interview on careers in meteorology

With exam results out and lots of young people thinking what they might do next, we thought it would be a good idea to say a bit about how to become a meteorologist. You can’t do a GCSE or A-level in meteorology so what should you be thinking about choosing to study?

Well, many people who end up in Meteorology come from a science background and in particular have studied subjects such as Maths, Physics and Chemistry at GCSE, A-level, and for a degree. Increasingly there are organisations that are employing people from backgrounds in environmental science and geography, but often there will be a requirement to undertake further studies to give people the scientific background needed, whether working as a meteorological researcher or an operational forecaster. Check out our ‘Spotlight on Careers’ page to see how just a small cross-section of our community ended up in meteorology ‘’.

Very few Universities offer Meteorology degrees, but there lots of related courses that will equip you well – and a number of MSc courses that give an opportunity to convert over to meteorology if you feel you would like to understand more about the science. The Society accredits Undergraduate degree and MSc courses and you can find a list on our website at ‘’.

I’m conscious that I am biased, but meteorology offers some great career opportunities, often involving travel within the UK and internationally – meteorology is a very international community. You can work as:
• an operational weather forecaster – and there are many facets to a role like that, including TV and radio presenters if that’s something that interests you.
• a weather observer - either taking observations or working in the development of instrumentation from simple rain gauges right through to aircraft equipment, weather radar and the development of new satellite technologies.
• consulting services - which is an increasing area of growth within the community that brings in business skills to provide advice to companies whose bottom line is affected by the weather.
• research scientist – either working in a university group or at one of the UK’s meteorological research institutes and centres, working at the forefront of weather and climate science.

You can find out more about the range of employers across both the public and the private sector in our section about ‘Who Employs Meteorologists’ (

For those working in meteorology already we also offer Vocational Qualifications and you can find out about the NVQs/SVQs in weather forecasting and weather observing, and how to become a Chartered Meteorologist at ‘’.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

The Planning for our Climate Change Question Time

We are just in the final planning stages for this year’s Society event at the British Association’s Festival of Science – a Climate Change Question Time. The Festival moves around the country and this year, in part I suspect to mark its status of European City of Culture, we are in Liverpool.

In preparation for the event we did some filming on the streets of Liverpool in late July, asking members of the public about climate change. I have to say that we had a very warm and friendly welcome and we collected quite a number of excellent and interesting interviews which we hope to be able to put up on the Society’s website before the end of September. We will be using a small selection of these to open our Question Time event. I promise to put a link to these in my blog when we have them ready as I know that you will enjoy watching them and hearing what people have to say – I am sure you will find that many of their thoughts and questions are similar to the ones you have.

The event will be in the style of Question Time and we are delighted to have a panel of very distinguished and internationally respected meteorological scientists who have been very actively involved in, amongst other things, the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The panel includes:

• Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Director of the Gratham Institute for Climate Change and a newly appointed member of the Government’s Climate Change Committee;
• Dr Peter Stott, the Head of Climate Monitoring and Attribution at the world renowned Met Office’s Hadley Centre, and a lead contributor to the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report;
• Professor Jo Haigh, Professor of Atmospheric Physics at Imperial College, whose area of expertise includes the Sun’s impact on our climate;
• Professor Piers Forster, the Roberts Research Fellow and Professor of Climate Physics at the University of Leeds, working in the field of climate forcing and feedbacks.

The aim of the event is to allow members of the public to ask the questions directly of the scientists that they want answered about climate change. The event will be followed by a reception where people will be able to meet with the members of the panel on a one-to-one basis and also see meteorological experiments demonstrated by the Society’s school Met Ambassadors.

It’s a meeting open to the public and if you would like to come we would be delighted to see you there – we are in the Quaker House (22 School Lane) in Liverpool city centre from 6-8pm on Tuesday 9 September. There is a small charge on the door, but if you register with us in advance (with Sue Brown at or on 0118 956 8500) we will be able to provide you with a ticket for free entry. You can find out more details of our and other Festival activities at ‘’.

Monday, 11 August 2008

What is it about Young People and Umbrellas?

On Thursday evening last week it was absolutely chucking it down. I was checking the weather radar to plan my best time to make a break for home and realised that I wasn’t going to get away with it – so I got out the umbrella and headed off.

I just couldn’t believe how many people were walking around just getting soaked because they didn’t have an umbrella. Now this is where I’m going to sound a bit like an old fogy, but there were all young people! My very unscientific survey suggested that 100% of people over 60 were brollied-up, some 50% of 60-30 year olds (of which I fall into) had umbrellas, but to my great dismay, not a single young person was carrying an umbrella (excuse my arbitrary definition of ‘young’).

So when did it become uncool to carry an umbrella. I was trying to think back to my younger days and whether I carried a brolly around with me. I did, but I then realised that this wasn’t much help as I could never have been described as cool.

Is the answer that we need Apple - the makers of the iPod and iPhone – to design the new iBolly or perhaps persuade Posh and Becs to carry around one of our Society unbrellas (which by the way are very reasonably priced for that special someone in your life). Or should we resign ourselves to the fact that the younger generation would rather be at one with the elements that be seen dead carrying one of our most British of traditions – and to think, they will never have that life experience of getting half way home and remembering that they have just left there nice new umbrella on the bus.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Weather, Smog and the Beijing Olympics

Since Henry Des Voeux allegedly invented the term Smog (an amalgamation of smoke and fog) in 1905, it hasn’t been in the news as much in the UK since the 1950s. Perhaps the most infamous being the Great Smog of London in 1952, which is said to have resulted in over 12,000 deaths, and led of course to the introduction of the Clean Air Act in 1956. Those kinds of smogs were the result of heavy coal burning in factories and homes, but modern day smogs are a little different.

These days smogs are more often a result of industry and transport emissions, and have two parts to them. The first are emissions of the Oxides of Nitrogen, Volatile Organic Compounds and Carbon Monoxide; the sort of thing Councils measure in those road side cabins that you might have seen. These are the primary pollutants, but there are also secondary pollutants caused as a result of sunlight reacting with the primary pollutants to create Ozone at ground level. Ozone is good for us up in the atmosphere because it protects us from harmful sunlight, but down at ground level it’s bad for us to breath. All of these primary and secondary pollutants combine to give us what we call photochemical smogs.

The big cities of the world do suffer from these kinds of smogs, like Mexico City, LA, and of course as we’ve seen on the news recently Beijing. And it’s not good news for those with breathing difficulty or those athletes who have to compete in those conditions.

It’s not the only challenges that athletes will face. August is one of the warmest and most humid months in Beijing with temperatures rising to 30oC and humidity as high as 75%. This can have two effects. Sweating cools us down because when the sweat evaporates from the skin it uses heat to turn the liquid into a gas and leaves the skins surface much cooler – we’ve all experienced that when we’ve got out of water before we’ve had the time to dry off. The high humidity reduces or can even prevent the sweat from evaporating. We sweat more and then end up very dehydrated. The second problem is that as our body temperature rises we push more of our blood towards the skin surface where it has a chance to cool, and away from muscles and body organs and we start to feel tired – and in extreme cases can lead to heatstroke.

We can’t do much about the temperature and humidity, but what about the smog. Well unfortunately that’s affected by the weather as well. Taking cars off the road and closing factories to reduce the emissions will certainly help, but if they don’t have the right kind of weather, then it will take a while for the smog that’s there to disperse. At this time of year when the upper parts of the atmosphere are warm then this can stop air rising and taking pollution away – it acts like a kind of lid to trap in the pollution. On a positive note though, because of the high temperatures and humidity there is a chance of thunderstorms which will help to wash out the pollutants.

Good luck to China for a great games and best of luck to Team GB – bring back lots of medals guys. By the way when are they going to make weather forecasting an Olympic sport!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

St Swithin’s Day and Flooding

Since I last blogged I’ve celebrated Yorkshire Day (on 1 August) and perhaps more meteorologically relevant St Swithin’s Day on 15 July. I’m sure you know the old saying that if it rains on St Swithin’s Day, then it will rain for 40 days and nights afterwards.

The saying comes from the story of the much loved Bishop of Winchester. As a man of the people he asked to be buried outside, where people could walk on him in the wind and rain – and in 862AD that’s what happened. But juts over 100 years later some monks decided to move St Swithin to a resting place inside the cathedral but the move was delayed by 40 days and nights of rain, supposedly St Swithin himself weeping in displeasure.

I read that the saying has been tested 55 times in the past and on none of the occasions when it rained on 15 July did it continue to rain for the next 40 days and nights – but it makes a nice story.

The day after St Swithin’s Day I was in London at a dinner with Sir Michael Pitt and Lord Chris Smith (the new Chairman of the Environment Agency), very appropriately talking about flooding, and more precisely the implementation of the recommendations from Sir Michael’s report on the floods of 2007. The report is very well considered and, I think, one of the best reviews for Government I have seen in a long while and stands a real chance of making a difference to the management of flood risk in the UK and importantly the effect on people’s lives and property.

There’s one part in particular that I think is well overdue, and that’s the greater coming together of our weather and flood prediction work with the Environment Agency and the Met Office working more closely on both their research and operational programmes – potentially through a joint centre.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

How to make a model rain gauge - with on air commentary

Download Paul's BBC Radio interview with live rain gauge construction!

Last week was wet, and not just outside of the studio. We thought it might be fun and interesting with school holidays coming up to do something on how to make your own weather observing instruments. So, I embarked on a brave attempt, Blue Peter-style, to build my own rain gauge and water barometer live on air – with mixed success.

It started well with the simple rain gauge, but the barometer proved a bit more tricky, and I seemed to have some problems with maintaining pressure. But despite my poor attempt, and the stick that I had from colleague afterwards, it is easy to do and if you are interested then there are some very simple instructions (with helpful pictures) on our website at

This week something less taxing hopefully!

Friday, 4 July 2008

How does the rain gauge work?

Download Paul's BBC Radio interview on rainfall

There are lots of different types of rain gauges, weighing gauges, tipping bucket gauges, siphon gauges, etc. but the ‘standard rain gauge’ used by the Met Office (as a reference gauge) is a copper cylinder with a knife-edged brass rim of 127 mm (5 inches) diameter, which is set in the ground with the top of the gauge 300 mm above ground level . Inside is a glass bottle contained within a removable overflow can. The top, cylindrical part of the rain gauge contains a funnel that directs the rain into the glass bottle.

Last week I was asked how come one gauge will measure the same depth of rainfall as another gauge that has a completely different diameter – surely the one with the bigger diameter will measure more rainfall because the whole at the top of the gauge is bigger. Well yes and no!

Gauges are ‘calibrated’ to make a measurement of a standard cubic volume of water. That is, the measuring scale in the gauge is designed to show you the depth of water in mm as if it had fallen through, let’s say for the sake of explanation, a volume of 1 m high onto an area of 1 m square. What that means is if you had two gauges of different diameters they might collect different amounts of water in them, but if you compared the measuring scale from the two gauges you would notice the two scales would not match each other – they would both be calibrated differently.

Here’s what I mean as an example. Let’s say you had two gauges, both the same height, but the first gauge was twice the area of the second one. And let’s say that the first gauge is a quarter full. If we pour the water from the first gauge into the second gauge, the second gauge would then be half full. That’s because as the second gauge is only half the volume, the water will go twice as far up in the gauge.

In order that we make sure we have the same depth reading in both gauges we would therefore need to calibrate the second gauge so that the measuring scale was twice as wide. I think this picture helps to explain.

Why not try making your own rain gauge with just a 2 litre plastic bottle, it’s lots of fun and you don’t need to worry about calculating areas and volumes!.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

It’s getting darker by the second

Watch a related video of Paul being interviewed on BBC Radio Berkshire

Well, we’ve had the longest day for 2008 and summer has officially begun, albeit a very windy start – the Yorkshire relatives had their plant pots blown away last week! On the radio slot this week we were talking about why we have seasons and of late it’s certainly felt like we’ve had all of these in a week or so (not quite as Crowded House sang about). It did remind me what interesting weather we have by virtue of being an island near a large ocean and continent in the mid-latitudes, and how lucky we are that we don’t have to battle the sort of severe weather that some parts of the world face this time of year.

Central Europe has been having some lively weather if the football coverage is anything to go by. But for a change, Glastonbury had a very sunny start. Tonight (Thursday) and Sunday might require the wellies to be unpacked, well at least the shower coat anyway. I noticed on Sunday that The Verve, Leonard Cohen, Neil Diamond and Gilbert O’Sullivan are playing – now there’s an eclectic music mix that sounds like the sort of thing you get when you put your iPod into Shuffle mode.

I’m a tennis fan so I’m hoping that we have some very seasonal summer weather for the next week of Wimbledon, but by all accounts it does look like we might be in for a shower or two on the middle Sunday and later in the second week. Let’s hope Andy Murray’s still out on the court braving the elements!

Monday, 23 June 2008

A Career in Meteorology - Where do we find our future Meteorologists?

The Society has been a member of the Science Council since its inception. We have always felt that this was an important organisation to be part of and continue to be actively involved in several of its programmes of work, particularly strong evidence-based policy support, the development of science education, and showing young people what interesting career choices exist in science, and in particular meteorology.

I found this year’s Annual Science Council lecture really though provoking – it was on the topic of how to make science more interesting to young people. In part my interest was an issue of timing because we are thinking ourselves about how we might tackle this challenge as part of our new Education Strategy.

I was astonished to see that the findings show of those choosing science as a career, some 28% of children have made this choice by the age of 11 and 63% by the age of 14 – it really brought home to me how important it is to have good quality science teaching in primary and early secondary school, and not just at A-level. As a mathematician, I have to note this bit, those who do well in maths go on to succeed in the wider physical science disciplines. In fact, it turns out that the A-levels that make you most employable are Maths, Physics and one other – and that certainly true for those wanting to make a career in meteorology.

One interesting observation was how unstimulating some science lessons can be when they involve learning by rote rather than discovery, and that flashes and bangs might be all well and good, but if you are designing a science curriculum that appeals to both boys and girls, then it has to look more widely to issues around how science can be used to address some of the difficult and challenging global problems we face. And there are many examples we can point to that also make stronger links with learning ‘outside the classroom’ and from ‘peer-to-peer’.

I think meteorology offers all of this. I guess there is too much to mention in specifics here, so I’ll return to this later in the summer, but if you would like to find out more about how people have made a career in meteorology, then you can visit our ‘Spotlight on Careers’ at ‘’.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Royal Met Soc AGM- it’s that time of year again

Watch a Youtube Video of the AGM

It was my second AGM last week since being in the job. It is always a busy time for the HQ team, close to our last Council before the summer break and the start of the new term. And it always signals change for us, with new editions to the Council team, and with this year a new President-elect, Professor Julia Slingo. Julia is based at Reading University and one of her many roles includes the National Centre for Atmospheric Science’s Director of Climate Research. We were particularly delighted to see Julia received the OBE this year in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for her services to Climate Science.

One of our members said to me last week that I seemed to be “enjoying the AGM far too much”. I confessed that I did for a number of reasons. The first is that it was an opportunity to share with the broader membership our achievements in the year (which the HQ team are very proud of) and bring to a conclusion the latest phase of changes to our governance structures, which we have invested a lot of commitment in over recent times. We’ll say more about that in our Members Handbook which we will; be sending out in the Autumn.

The second is actually being able to meet and talk to the membership, to hear your thoughts on how we are doing (there is nothing like some personal feedback) and to share a common enthusiasm for what we are all trying to achieve with the Society for meteorology. We offer lots of personal benefits to membership, but it was a useful reminder that because of our members the Society is able to do much more for meteorology as a science and a profession. Myself and Liz (that’s Liz Bentley, our Head of Communications who started with us this year) have been talking recently about how we can tell members more about what the Society does for the wider community by virtue of the help and support we receive through membership.

Thirdly, we had our Annual Awards to celebrate success, which is something that (in a very British way) I believe we don’t do enough of. I know I’m biased, but sharing a drink with friends and colleagues at the end of the day at our awards reception reminded me very much of why meteorology is such a great community to work in.

Friday, 13 June 2008

What is Wind?

It’s Father’s Day on Sunday (too late for a card now!), but the weekend is also the European Wind Energy weekend. I was asked one of those simple yet hard to explain questions like why is the sky blue (for a later week’s discussions) this week - why are there winds? Well, the answer I gave was very simply the air moves from points of high pressure to points of low pressure, which creates our wind – of course it’s a lot more complicated than simply describing what we call ‘the pressure gradient force’, but that’s basically why we have wind.

The air doesn’t always manage to move directly from High to Low pressure because it can be affected by the wider scale flow of our atmosphere (on the big scale) and local temperature differences (on a small scale), so like lots of things in meteorology we have effects going on at many levels or as we call it spatial scales.

Speaking of scales, and we like our measuring scales in meteorology, we have lots of ways of measuring winds. The most famous of course is the Beaufort Scale (named after its inventor Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort) which measures wind in a range 0 (clam) to 12 (hurricane force). For stronger winds, specifically for tornadoes, we have the Fujita scale after Ted Fujita (or more correctly now the Enhanced Fujita scale), which goes from EF1 to EF5 and relates to the scale of damage, and we have the Saffir-Simpson scale for Hurricanes, which goes from Category 1 to the most severe at Category 5.

One strong wind that has become more commonly talked about in a few recent TV documentaries is the Jet Stream (or more specifically the Polar Jet Stream). This is a very strong jet of air that travels at great speed high up in the atmosphere, in fact about 10km up (or for those of you not yet metric, that’s just over 6 miles up). This jet stream can often bring bad weather across the Atlantic to the UK, and last summer in particular when the jet was over the UK (instead of its more usual northerly summer position) we saw some pretty unseasonally wet and windy weather.

I once read that if we could harness just 1% of the power of the jet stream then we would have enough energy to power the world’s current energy needs – but 10km is a heck of a long power cable!

Friday, 6 June 2008

Meteorological Training

Sitting on a train returning from another fascinating visit to the Royal Navy’s school for training their weather forecasters I felt bound to capture a few thoughts on the day.

The visit was to talk more broadly about the development of professional accreditation for the sector as a whole. One topic we did specifically discuss was the ideas the Society has for a new professional charter qualification, the Chartered Meteorological Technician (CMetTech).

The idea behind this is to offer a new professional development pathway for those people who undertake a range of very important tasks around observing equipment and measurement, helping to prepare and deliver analysis and forecast products, and providing support to customers of meteorological information.

Sitting along side the Society’s existing CMetTech, this would mirror the new WMO classifications of: WMO Meteorologist; and WMO Meteorological Technician

As well as being great hosts, I was also left with the impression of how professional their training school and instructors are. The pride they take in the important work that they do, and what a talented and experienced group of instructors they have – with a clear passion for meteorology.

The training school, based at HMNB Devonport in Plymouth, equip the Navy’s officers and ratings with the skills to provide the wide range of meteorological and hydrographic services required by the Navy. Many of those who pass through this school go on to provide invaluable operational services and when they return to civilian life are very much valued by the weather service providers as top quality forecasters and observers.

In our book, a career in meteorology is well worth following.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Snow on 2nd June?

On the radio programme this week we were talking about the climatology of
2nd June, with particular reference to the Coronation in 1953. In planning the big day the Palace approached the Met Office to recommend a day with ‘the most suitable’ weather. The Met Office suggested the 2nd June as climatologically the sunniest and mildest day of the year – ideal for a coronation event. As we know the Palace decided on this day, and also as we meteorologists know, there is a distinct difference between weather and climate – needless to say it poured down all day!

Phil Kennedy, the radio presenter whose show we appear in, said that his wife (whose birthday is on this day) recalls snow on 2nd June in 1975, which stopped a cricket match at Lords. I have not had a chance to check this out yet, but it is on my list to look up the daily weather summary on my next visit to the Met Office. It did also start me thinking what was the latest snowfall that we have ever experienced in the UK, with, I suspect, some very different answers for Scotland and the rest of the UK?

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Andrew's Sky Question - The impact of haze on sky photographs

We had a question from an Andrew about haze and the impact it has on his photos of the sky. Andrew, we did not catch your phone number on the message you left so please get in touch again on 0118 9568 500 and we’d be delighted to talk with you further.

However to try and anticipate your question; haziness can have several possible causes. It can be caused by smoke or dust in the atmosphere, or a more general heavy aerosol content. It’s when you have large aerosol content that the light is scattered at sunset to produce the sometimes spectacular red and orange skies. I’m no photographer, but I’m told that because it scatters red wavelengths less. Photographers often use yellow filters in hazy conditions to enhance the image contrast.

Haze has an internationally recognised meteorological classification as distinct from fog and mist, which are more related to the water vapour in the atmosphere. Haze is more commonly a dry air feature. Very dense haze is known as smog.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Bank Holiday Weather

If you were in the more Northern parts of the UK you probably enjoyed the sunny Bank Holiday weather, but not so for us southerners (sorry Dad I’m not betraying my northern roots), being bashed around by some truly dreadful wet and windy weather. Not being able to do any of the things we had planned for the long weekend, like the garden (so it is true that every cloud does have a silver lining!), I was searching around on the internet to see if I could find some information of weather observations for Bank Holidays – no luck.

With the help of John Prior, Head of the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre (NCIC), I did find this interesting site ‘’. If anyone has any interesting comments on the meteorology or perhaps interestingly a climatology of Bank Holidays then I’d be interested to hear about it.

By the way, keep an eye out for the analysis of May weather that will be issued next week by the NCIC. I suspect we are in for some interesting rainfall percentages across the UK.

What are the real benefits of being a member of the Society?

This week the Society launched its new project to look at both developing the benefits of Society Membership and to investigate whether we should look to broaden the opportunity for members with a more general interest in the weather to be able to have stronger links with the Society. There are some really interesting concepts in here about the future direction of the Society – but that’s for a later blog entry.

The starting point for our discussions at the Project Board was to review the current list of benefits. It’s the first time I’ve seen us list all of them in one place, and several things struck me. The first was how many we have. The second, which follows on almost immediately, was how bad we are at publicising all these. For example did you know that as a Member of the Society you are entitles to discounts on computer software, Wiley books and weather instruments from the Weather Shop if ordered through the Society.

The third thing that occurred to me was how many members we have that join the Society, not necessarily to take advantage of the personal benefits, but to support their professional and learned Society and the work it does for meteorology. Whilst they may not benefit directly certainly Meteorology does.

For instance our work with the Science Council and Government in improving the quality of curriculum resources that foster children’s interest in studying science that’s well taught in the classroom, helping to promote careers in science and funding programmes that help those scientist convert into meteorology, the development of professional qualification and accreditation schemes that drive up the standard in service provision and instrumentation, the contribution we make to groups like the UK Flight Safety Committee, and our work to support the policy work of Government and the Select Committees of Parliament, with some interesting work recently on the Climate Change Bill.

That’s only some of the work we do behind the scenes, and (although we can always be better at what we do) it reminded me of what a fantastic organisation the Society is, what influence it does carry and what an interesting and rewarding job I have.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Have you heard our regular weather slot on the radio?

For eight weeks now I have been contributing to a regular weekly weather discussion slot on BBC Radio Berkshire at 6.20 pm on a Wednesday evening.
I was a little apprehensive initially about making such a commitment, but so far I have enjoyed it and I hope managed to encourage (at least in small part) a greater general interest in something that has fascinated me for a lot of my life.

A couple of weeks ago we talked about the tropical cyclone that had then just hit Burma, and the week before last Roger Brugge joined us from the Climatological Observers Link to give an interesting commentary on Berkshire weather. Last week we spoke about how mercury is being discontinued in thermometers. We got onto a bit of the history of thermometers and talked about the fact that the first thermometer was a water thermometer invented by Galileo – which a number of people have a modern-day version of in their house. You can see one in the picture.

One of the hardest parts of doing this is having to think of a new topic to talk about each week, so if you have any ideas please let me know – any suggestions would be gratefully received.

Climate change becomes fashionable

It is probably an odd entry to begin a blog with, but I wanted to say a few words about the ASBCI’s Annual Clothing and Textiles Conference which I gave a talk at last week. The conference is for those working across the fashion sector, from the chemists involved in developing new high tech textiles through buyers for high street stores to the designers.

The theme of their conference this year was the impact of weather and climate on the industry – and I gave a keynote talk on climate change and seasonal forecasting.

I was pleased to have taken the time to go. It is an audience that we would not normally connect with and as well as debunking some of the climate myths and misconceptions, it was also a valuable opportunity for me to profile the work of our .Corporate Member weather service providers within this important part of the retail sector. I had some very valuable discussions in the margins of the meeting, but what struck me most of all is how much is lacking from our knowledge of regional climate that is actually practically useful to such retail businesses who operate in global markets and supply chains