Met Office

Met Office
Met Office
Met Office.svg
Current logo, as of 2009
Agency overview
Formed 1854
Jurisdiction United Kingdom
Headquarters Exeter
Agency executive John Hirst
Parent agency Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

The Met Office (originally an abbreviation for Meteorological Office, but now the official name in itself), is the United Kingdom's national weather service, and a trading fund of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Part of the Met Office headquarters at Exeter in Devon is the Met Office College, which handles the training for internal personnel and many forecasters from around the world. The current chief executive is John Hirst.



The Met Office was established in 1854 as a small department within the Board of Trade under Robert FitzRoy as a service to mariners. The loss of the passenger vessel, the Royal Charter, and 459 lives off the coast of Anglesey in a violent storm in October 1859 led to the first gale warning service. In 1861 FitzRoy had established a network of 15 coastal stations from which visual gale warnings could be provided for ships at sea.

The development of the electric telegraph in the 1870s led to the more rapid dissemination of warnings and also led to the development of an observational network which could then be used to provide synoptic analyses.

In 1879 the Met Office started providing forecast to newspapers.

Connection with the Ministry of Defence

Following the First World War, the Met Office became part of the Air Ministry in 1920, the weather observed from the top of Adastral House (where the Air Ministry was based) giving rise to the phrase "The weather on the Air Ministry roof". As a result of the need for accurate weather information for aviation, the Met Office located many of its observation and data collection points on RAF airfields, and this accounts for the large number of military airfields mentioned in weather reports even today. In 1936 the Met Office split with services to the Royal Navy being provided by its own forecasting services.

It currently holds a quasi-governmental role, being required to act commercially, but also has remained an executive agency of the Ministry of Defence since April 1990. A branch of the Met Office known as the Mobile Met Unit (MMU) accompany forward units in times of conflict advising the armed forces of the prevailing conditions for battle, particularly the RAF. The Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research and the National Meteorological Library and Archive are also parts of the Met Office.

On July 18th 2011, the Met Office became part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.[1]


Until 2001 the Met Office hosted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change working group, chaired by John Houghton, on climate science. In 2001 the working group moved to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.[2]


Met Office HQ, Exeter

In September 2003 the Met Office moved its headquarters to a purpose-built £80m structure near Exeter Airport and the A30, in Devon, being officially opened on 21 June 2004—its 150th anniversary—by Robert May, Baron May of Oxford, from its previous location of Bracknell in Berkshire, and it has a worldwide presence – including a forecasting centre in Aberdeen, and offices in Gibraltar and on the Falklands. Other outposts lodge in establishments such as the Joint Centre for Mesoscale Meteorology (JCMM) at University of Reading in Berkshire, the Joint Centre for Hydro-Meteorological Research (JCHMR) site at Wallingford in Oxfordshire, and there is also a Met Office presence at many Army and Air Force bases within the UK and abroad (including frontline units in conflict zones).[3] Royal Navy weather forecasts are generally provided by naval officers, not Met Office personnel.

The new building on the edge of Exeter


Shipping Forecast

One of the British stalwarts, the Shipping Forecast, is produced by the Met Office and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. The Shipping Forecast has long been of real interest to, and vital to the safety of, mariners traversing the Sea Areas around the British Isles. Less vitally, the Shipping Forecast has been the subject of both books and song lyrics.[citation needed]

Weather forecasting and warnings

The Met Office is responsible for issuing Severe Weather Warnings for the United Kingdom through the National Severe Weather Warning Service (NSWWS). These warn of weather events that may affect transport infrastructure and endanger people's lives. In March 2008, the system was improved and a new stage of warning was introduced, the 'Advisory'.[4]

Weather prediction models

Its main role is to produce forecast models by gathering all the information from weather satellites in space and observations on earth, then processing it using two IBM supercomputers with a variety of models, based on a software package known as the Unified Model. The principle weather products for UK customers are 36-hour forecasts from the operational 1.5 km resolution UKV model covering the UK and surroundings[5] (replacing the 4 km model), 48-hour forecasts from the 12 km resolution NAE model covering Europe and the North Atlantic, and 144-hour forecasts from the 25 km resolution global model (replacing the 40 km global model).[6] The Met Office's Global Model forecast has consistently been in the top 3 for global weather forecast performance over the past few decades in independent verification to WMO standards.[7] A wide range of other products for other regions of the globe are sold to customers abroad, provided for MOD operations abroad or provided free to developing countries in Africa. If necessary, forecasters may make adjustments to the computer forecasts. This main bulk of data is then passed on to companies who acquire it. Data is stored in the Met Office's own PP-format.

Flood Forecasting Centre

Formed in 2009 the Flood Forecasting Centre (FFC) is a joint venture between the Environment Agency and the Met Office to provide warnings of flooding in which may affect England and Wales. The FFC is based in the Operations Centre at the Met Office headquarters in Exeter.[8] In Scotland this role is performed by the Scottish Flood Forecasting Service, a joint venture between the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Met Office.[9]

Seasonal forecasts

The Met Office has regularly made seasonal forecasts, and continues to distribute them to customers. In Spring 2009, they forecast only a 40% chance of Britain getting higher than average rainfall (and correspondingly a 60% chance of getting average or less than average rainfall), with the text summary reading:[10]

  • For the UK and much of Western Europe rainfall is likely to be near or below average. A repeat of the very wet summers of 2007 and 2008 is unlikely.

This was widely reported in the UK media as being a forecast for a "barbecue summer".[11] Parts of the country in fact had higher than average rain and relatively little bright sunshine.[12] In the Autumn of 2009, the Met Office forecast a 65% chance of an average or mild winter, but the winter of 2009/2010 was one of the coldest experienced for many decades. Frustration with the media generating misleading news stories from the probabilistic forecasts (such as the "barbecue summer" headlines in May 2009), with intense negative publicity from the Met Office's rivals such as Daily Telegraph/Press Association-owned MeteoGroup and with publicity resulting from the low probability predicted for the cold winter of 2009-2010 led the Met Office to stop disseminating their seasonal forecasts to the media in February 2010, although these forecasts are still available for customers.

Supply of forecasts for broadcasting companies

In particular, two of the main media companies, the BBC and ITV produce forecasts using the Met Office's data. At the BBC Weather Centre, they are continuously updated on the latest information arriving by computer, or by fax and e-mail.[13][14] The BBC's new graphics are used on all of their television weather broadcasts, but ITV Weather use animated weather symbols. This is mainly how the public are informed of weather events which may affect day-to-day life. The forecasters at the BBC Weather Centre are employed by the Met Office, not the BBC.

World Area Forecast Centre

The Met Office is also one of only two World Area Forecast Centres or WAFCs, and is referred to as WAFC London. The other WAFC is located in Kansas, USA but known as WAFC Washington. WAFC data is used daily to safely and economically route aircraft, particularly on long-haul journeys. The data provides details of wind speed and direction, air temperature, cloud type and tops, and other features of interest to the aviation community.

Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre

As part of its aviation forecast operation the Met Office operates the London VAAC.[15] This provides forecasts to the aviation industry of volcanic ash clouds that could enter aircraft flight paths and impact aviation safety. The London VAAC, one of nine worldwide, is responsible for the area covering the British Isles, the north east Atlantic and Iceland. The VAAC were set up by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), an agency of the United Nations, as part of the International Airways Volcano Watch (IAVW).[16] The London VAAC makes use of satellite images, plus seismic, radar and visual observation data from Iceland,[17] the location of all of the active volcanoes in its area of responsibility. The NAME dispersion model developed by the Met Office is used to forecast the movement of the ash clouds 6, 12 and 18 hours from the time of the alert at different flight levels.

Air quality

The Met Office issues air quality forecasts made using NAME, the Met Office's medium-to-long-range atmospheric dispersion model. It was originally developed as a nuclear accident model following the Chernobyl accident in 1986, but has since evolved into an all-purpose dispersion model capable of predicting the transport, transformation and deposition of a wide class of airborne materials. NAME is used operationally by the Met Office as an emergency response model as well as for routine air quality forecasting. Aerosol dispersion is calculated using the UKCA model.

The forecast is produced for a number of different pollutants and their typical health effects are shown in the following table.

Pollutant Health Effects at High Level
Nitrogen dioxide
Sulphur dioxide
These gases irritate the airways of the lungs, increasing the symptoms
of those suffering from lung diseases.
Fine particles can be carried deep into the lungs where they can cause
inflammation and a worsening of heart and lung diseases

High performance computing

Due to the large amount of computation needed for Numerical Weather Prediction and the Unified model, the Met Office has had some of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. In November 1997 the Met Office supercomputer was ranked third in the world.[18]

Year Computer Calculations a second Horizontal Resolution (Global/local) Number of Vertical levels
1959 Ferranti Mercury 3Kflops (N.A./320 km) 2 levels
1965 English Electric KDF9 50Kflops (N.A./300 km) 3 levels
1972 IBM System/360 195 4Mflops (300 km/100 km) 10 levels
1982 CDC Cyber 205 200Mflops (150 km/75 km) 15 levels
1991 Cray Y-MP C90/16 10Gflops (90 km/17 km) 19 levels
1997 Cray T3E 900/1200 430Gflops (60 km/12 km) 38 levels
2004 NEC SX-6 2.0Tflops (40 km/12 km) 50 levels
2006 NEC SX-8 and SX-6 5.4Tflops (40 km/4 km) 50 levels
2009 IBM Power6 140Tflops (25 km/1.5 km) 70 levels

Weather stations

Reports (observations) from weather stations vary considerably. They can be automatic (totally machine produced), semi-automatic (part-machine and part manual), or manual. Some stations produce manual observations during business hours and revert to automatic observations outside these times. Many stations now also feature recent innovations such as "present weather" sensors, CCTV, etc.

Some stations have limited reporting times, while other report continuously, mainly RAF and Army Air Corps stations where a manned met office is provided for military operations. The "standard" is a once-hourly reporting schedule, but automatic stations can often be "polled" as required, while stations at airfields regularly report twice-hourly, with additional (often frequent in times of bad weather) special reports as necessary to inform airfield authorities of changes to the weather that may affect aviation operations.

Some stations report only CLIMAT data (e.g. maximum and minimum temperatures, rainfall totals over a period, etc.) and these are usually recorded at 0900 and 2100 hours daily. Weather reports are often performed by observers not specifically employed by the Met Office, such as Air traffic control staff, coastguards, university staff and so on.

  • AAC Middle Wallop weather station

Meteorological Research Unit & the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM)

For many years Meteorological Research was carried out at RAE Bedford with instruments being carried by barrage balloons until the RAE facility closed in the 1980s.

The Met Office association with Cardington continues by maintaining a Meteorological Research Unit (MRU), this is responsible for conducting research into part of the atmosphere called the boundary layer by using a tethered balloon which is kept in a small portable hangar.[20][21]


The Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) is part of the National Centre for Atmospheric Sciences and is based nearby at Cranfield Airport and it is part of a collaboration with the Natural Environment Research Council.[20]

The FAAM was established as part of the National Centre for Atmospheric Sciences (NCAS),[22] which is itself part of NERC, to provide aircraft measurement for use by UK atmospheric research organisations on worldwide campaigns. The main equipment is a modified BAe 146 type 301 aircraft, registration G-LUXE, owned by BAE Systems and operated for them by the company Directflight Limited.[23]

FAAM aircraft BAe 146 G-LUXE on the Cranfield Airport apron June 2009

Areas of application include:[24]

Directors General and Chief Executives

See also


  1. ^ "UK Met Office switches departments in Whitehall shake-up". Retrieved 18 July 2011. 
  2. ^ Pearce, Fred, The Climate Files: The Battle for the Truth about Global Warming, (2010) Guardian Books, ISBN 978-0-85265-229-9, p. XVI.
  3. ^ Met Office defence: Supporting operations
  4. ^ "Met Office warning colours". 2008-11-19. Retrieved 2010-05-15. 
  5. ^ "Experiences with a 1.5km version of the Met Office Unified Model for short range forecasting". 2011-01-25. Retrieved 2011-02-23. 
  6. ^ "Met Office Atmospheric numerical model configurations". 2010-05-05. Retrieved 2010-05-15. 
  7. ^ "Verification statistics and evaluations of ECMWF forecasts in 2009-2010 -- Figures 11-15". European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts 2010-10. Retrieved 2011-02-10. 
  8. ^ "Flood Forecasting Centre moves to Exeter". Exeter Science. Retrieved 4 June 2011. 
  9. ^ "Scottish Flood Forecasting Service". Retrieved 4 June 2011. 
  10. ^ What can we say about this season? -- Published May 2009
  11. ^ So much for our barbecue summer
  12. ^ Summer 2009 forecast appraisal
  13. ^ "Producing Weather Broadcasts". BBC Weather. Retrieved 2010-05-15. 
  14. ^ "How the weather is forecast". The Met Office. 1954-01-11. Archived from the original on January 8, 2007. Retrieved 2010-05-15. 
  15. ^ "London VAAC". 2008-11-19. Retrieved 2010-05-15. 
  16. ^ "International Airways Volcano Watch". 2010-03-26. Retrieved 2010-05-15. 
  17. ^ Overview of VAAC Activities presentation[dead link]
  18. ^ Mark Twain, Kevin McCurley. "United Kingdom Meteorological Office | TOP500 Supercomputing Sites". Retrieved 2010-05-15. 
  19. ^ "Prestatyn Weather website". Retrieved 2010-05-15. 
  20. ^ a b MET Office Research facilities (website accessed: 12/08/10))
  21. ^ Met Office - Boundary layer (accessed: 12/08/10)
  22. ^ National Centre for Atmospheric Sciences
  23. ^ Directflight Limited official website
  24. ^ FAAM web reports page
  25. ^ "Reason and Light". New Statesman. Retrieved 2008-04-22. 

Further reading

External links

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