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The History of The Meteorological Office
by Peter Kaminski
Manager of the Flood Forecasting Department
In 2003 The Meteorological Office moved from Bracknell to Exeter and this meant the deployment of a vast number of staff. Peter has been in the employment of the department for 35 years and in that time has witnessed great alterations. With new extensive computers and information gathering facilities all over the world the office at Exeter plays a major part in world wide information. The official weather forecasting began in 1854 and the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary was in 2004 when the move to Exeter was completed. It is part of The Ministry of Defence so a major part of their forecasting is for the RAF and other military departments. In 1996 it was made more commercial and supplies detailed forecasts for supermarket, civil aviation as well as MOD. They pride themselves that their four day forecasts today are now more accurate than the one day forecasts of thirty years ago, and claim that six out of seven forecasts are accurate. The forecasts are based on the probability or likelihood of a type of weather, and details of atmospheric pressure, wind speeds and temperature, moisture and cloud type are all taken into account. The information gathered continually over a twenty-four hour period each day has to be interpreted to obtain what they consider to be the most probable outcome.
There are two information gathering stations that cover the whole world. One in Washington USA and the other here at Exeter. Between them they cover the whole world with early warning information for airlines in particular. They need to know of wind directions and speed to plot the best routes for the aircraft to travel, particularly long haul flights. Flood warning forecasting has become very important with climate change, which is the latest cause for weather variations. This enables lives and properties to be saved as preventative action can often be motivated early. The advice can assist planes, trains and councils regarding the threat of icing on roads and airport runways etc. and with reference to surface temperatures and those at various altitudes.
The military also make use of details of sand storms, dust and winds etc. Forecasting can be of great help to those with health problems caused by dust, pollen, asthmatic and other breathing problems and they claim that recent advances has led to a drop of 20% in health related problems due to early warning forecasts. The marketing of food and clothes can also be influenced by the weather and to this end supermarkets and big business source information from the Metrological Office. According to the temperature and advance forecasting supermarkets calculate the type of stock held in their stores can get varied accordingly. Too hot, salads, fruit and the like take precedent. Too cold, soups and hot meals are brought to the fore. The likelihood of alternative weather patterns help to decide the type of clothes on view and this all helps to balance the supply with the need. There is now a GCSE in Meteorology available for students to study.
The first radio weather forecast was in 1922 and the weather presenters of today are fully trained meteorologists so what you hear on radio and see on television is their interpretation of all details available. The information is continually being gathered and interpreted twenty four hours a day and with automatic recording of data from many sources it is to be hoped that forecasts will continue to improve.
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