Celebrating over 60 years of cultivating knowledge and friendship


Wednesday, 22 April 2009

April Talk

On a warm sunny spring evening, our speaker was Karen Dutton from The Met Office. Karen explained that her talk would cover a short history of The Met Office, how the business works and a discussion on climate change. She began working for the Met Office 22 years ago as a support scientist.

The Met Office was the brain child of Admiral Fitzroy and it was founded originally in 1854. It was in 1919 when Lewis Fry Richardson began forecasting in using mathematical equations. In 1964 it was an agendy under the Air Ministry and then the Ministry of Defence. In 1990 it became a Next Steps agency, a step away from government ties. In 1996 it began trading almost independently and in 2003 it moved to its current location in Exeter. It was the largest IT move in Europe and it came in on time and on budget.

She carefully explained what was need to do a weather forecast. On a daily basis the Met Office processes data of 10 million observations and 100,000 million bits of data. A computer was first used in 1964 and the current one has just been upgraded so it will process in 20 minutes what the capacity of a home computer would take 5 years to process..... This is now what is needed for forecasting and provide more local weather systems.

It is the world's leading centre for predicting climate change. Its customers include the Ministry of Defence; The Cabinet Office for emergency response and the Civil Aviation Authority. It provides reports to local government agencies to help with winter road maintenance; for offshore exploration; the energy industry; the water industry and environment agency.

They are now working closely with a new department of the Environmental Agency to provide data for flood defences to help with the national infrastructure of the country to run efficiently.

It has ties with the Department of Health to detect heat and cold spells to help with patients health.

Energy demands fluctuate depending on the weather so it works closely with the National Grid.

One of our members, Colin Cochrane had emailed The Met Office regarding TV forecasting and the time given to national and local TV weather slots. Karen kindly gave a personal response explaining about the different business models of the various TV stations.

Finally she explained about climate change. The change being a long term change and it was 90% "our" fault. It had been noted that lawns were being cut two weeks earlier than in the 1990's and this is just one of the indicators of change. Globally there had been observed increases in temperatures. Finally she said the temperatures seen in the long hot summer of 2003 would become the norm by 2040.

Her final comment and slide revealed that forecasting the weather was like driving a car backwards being directed by someone looking out the back window.

Several members asked Karen varied questions and included short lessons in chemistry, physics and mathematics.

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