Monday, 2 August 2010

Our Next Generation of Well-qualified Meteorologists

The last few weeks have been busy with travelling around the UK, but interesting. A few weeks ago we held our Student Conference at the Met Office so our student community could join with the Met Office’s early career scientists. Having a fair proportion of our next generation of meteorologists in one room together was very enjoyable and I was extremely impressed by the work that they were presenting. They are certainly a talented bunch. The conference held a lively debate on the pros and cons of geo-engineering and it’s clear that they are not only talented but passionate about the future of meteorology and how it is applied to some of our more serious problems. I very much came away with the sense that our subject is in safe hands.

Last week I also chaired a meeting of the UK’s sector committee for meteorology – that’s the group who represent the practitioner community in the UK, and specifically the development of qualification standards for the profession. In includes the Society, the Royal Navy, the Met Office and the private sector. We spent our time focusing on the development of new vocational qualifications for meteorology. There is something called the Qualifications and Curriculum Framework in the UK which defines various levels of vocational qualifications and we spent our day mapping our standards into this new framework. It was very enjoyable to come together as a community to ensure all our forecasters in the UK have the opportunity to develop their skills and competencies through high-quality, independently-recognised vocational qualifications. What I am always impress by is that the members of the group, who have very busy workloads, give up their time freely and voluntarily to undertake this work for the good of the profession and its future development.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

A Week of Extremes

After another week of sunshine and showers I was reflecting on the fact that it’s not only our UK weather that changes from day-to-day, but that our weather the world over is so diverse. And last week was certainly a week of extremes. In South Dakota the record was broken for the largest recorded hailstone at a diameter of 8 inches, and weighing in at a massive 900 grams; that’s not far short of a bag of sugar – imagine that falling out of the sky. In Japan and Russian they have been suffering a severe heat wave with temperatures in excess of 35 deg C. On the other hand in southern Peru they have had very extreme cold weather, with temperatures as low as -24 deg C.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Meteorologists vs the Eggheads

What is it about meteorologists and quiz programmes. We have a meteorologist who made the final of 15-to-1 (remember that programme) and the Society’s team were runners up in the final of University Challenge – the Professionals. We lost out to the Journalists of all people! But not deterred by this a team from the HQ staff pitted our wits against the Eggheads on Monday.

If you haven’t seen the Eggheads then you can find them on BBC2’s tea-time schedule. I’ll build up the suspense by keeping the outcome to myself, but you can imagine that there were plenty of people in our team who fancied their chances at the Science round. They tell us it will be screened in 6-9 months, but no need to look out for it as I’m sure we will be posting a link to iPlayer in due course.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The weather's too warm for me.

The line in blue in the image above is my descent into Heathrow, compared with the temperature from the standard atmospheric model, in yellow.

I read in one of my gardening magazines that our Spring flowers were 3 weeks later than usual this year because of the cold winter and snowy start to the year. In fact for some species it’s more like a delay of 5 days per degree of temperature below the average. It didn’t seem to do my spring bulbs any harm and it seems that my garden has now caught up on itself and is very much enjoying the warm weather – unlike me. But like many parts of England and Wales it will soon be too dry for the gardens and we will be very short of water resources – if not to re-inforce our sensitivity to relatively small changes in our weather.

I didn’t worry much about my spring garden and I missed two weeks of it to be at a good friends wedding in Botswana – two meteorologists becoming one meteorological family! I’m not a big fan of hot weather so I’m not enjoying the current conditions in the south-east but in Botswana I knew what to expect. What I didn’t expect was quite how beautiful a country it is and I would definitely recommend a visit.

While I was there I had the opportunity to have an excellent visit to the Botswana Met Service and to meet the dedicated people there who do a fantastic job – thanks everyone for making me feel so welcome.

I also had the chance to see the Savute River channel in the Kalahari dessert in Northern Botswana, which was in full flow – the first time in almost 30 years – a really spectacular sight. The Savute Channel has only ever flowed intermittently. It last flowed from 1967 to 1981, but since then the channel and the Savute Marsh have been dry, a phenomenon that has occurred on and off over centuries. It does bring home that the stresses of a few weeks of warm weather in the UK, whilst important for us, doesn’t compare much with the water resource issues that exist in some countries.

On the way back I flew into Heathrow airport and as is my usual practice I have the temperature profile from the in-flight display, compared with the standard atmosphere profile. And it does compare well as you can see below. Notice, though, that even at 0650 in the morning temperatures in the UK were quite warm on that day, 9 April, at nearly 10 deg C.

The Society now has a South-East Local Centre which meets in Reading (currently Reading Town Hall) each month between September and July and I’m enjoying the meetings very much – good talks and good company.

At the June meeting Stephen Burt presented some observations from his weather station in Berkshire, with some interesting stats for June, and many thanks for Stephen for letting me reproduce some of these here. He recorded only 28% of the 1971-2000 average rainfall and 34% more sunshine. In terms of the mean maximum temperature, only 2006 has been warmer since the infamous 1976 summer.

Here are Stephen’s rainfall stats for the past 12 months. The figures in pale green are the % of the 1971-2000 climatological average and in blue the rainfall amounts recorded in mm.

This is Stephen’s record of daily sunshine in hours. June’s daily sunshine average was over 2 hours greater than that for the 1971-2000 daily average.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Snow, but not quite a white Christmas (less common than a white Easter)

I know, I know it’s been a long time since my last entry – and I have no good excuse other than it’s been very busy over the last few months and each time I came to the point of putting down a few words something seemed to get in the way. And thank you to all those who dropped me a note saying where is my next Blog entry – I didn’t realise that so many actual read it!

A lot has happened since last I wrote. First off the country was under snow for what seemed like several months. We broke a 30-year record for snowfall but despite the disruption I rather enjoyed having a good old fashioned winter again, digging us out of the front door and finding my boots out of the garage for walking into work. It wasn’t quite a white Christmas by true definition (snow falling on the day) which I was quite pleased about as I had done a few radio broadcasts saying that it wasn’t going to happen – but it was a close run thing.

One of my favourite facts, not known by many, is that a white Easter is more likely than a white Christmas – that’s a cheery thought for the next few weeks! It isn’t very common that we have heavy snowfalls so early on in the winter. The other interesting thing about snow is that, by a very rough approximation, snow melts to 1/10th of its depth. That is 1cm of snow (10 mm) melts to approximately 1mm of rain – not a very useful piece of knowledge for everyday life I know, but interesting never the less for those who have to think about flooding from snowmelt.

Other things that have happened – I went to join in with comedian Lloyd Woolf’s “buy a weatherman a drink” evening in London and had a very entertaining night, I upset the Mayor of Moscow by saying that weather modification is not a good way to spend public money. Also in December, we of course had a disappointing Conference of the Parties (COP) in Copenhagen, but at least we have some countries signing up to commitments to reduce emissions in their January Accord and a pledge to meet again in the summer before the next COP at the end of this year. We should make the best of our winter snow event as these are less likely going forward in our warmer climate.

I had an interesting January at the first meeting of the International Forum of Meteorological Societies, with over 20 Societies coming together to talk about areas of common interest, and in particular in areas such as resources for schools and in professional development. It was a very productive meeting, but I enjoyed it as much for meeting up with old colleagues as for what we achieved. It was nice to see so many of those old colleagues who, like me, were now doing more with their professional society. It reminded me in part why I enjoy working in meteorology and what makes it a special kind of career.

As is usual from my trips abroad, here is the temperature profile from the flight that I took from the in-flight temperature and height figures you get on your video screen. You can see it was about 6 degrees colder in Heathrow pretty consistently through the atmosphere – and both follow a nice standard lapse rate curve of 6oC per kilometre.

On Saturday just gone I was at a very different type of event – at the other end of the spectrum you might say. Rather than meeting old colleagues I was meeting lots of young potential meteorologists at the Big Bang event in Manchester. This is the UK’s Science and Engineering festival, and this year they had over 20,000 people visit. I was there to talk on a careers panel, was able to take the opportunity to promote a career in meteorology. But I also joined the Society team in the main exhibition hall to meet young people who had stopped by our exhibition to find out more about what life is really like as a meteorologist.

Finally speaking of Saturday events, this coming Saturday sees the opening of a new exhibition on Luke Howard (the father of clouds) at the Bruce Castle museum in Tottenham. I hope some of you have a chance to stop by and visit the exhibition. You can find out more about the exhibition at ‘’.