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.