UNISDR International Day for Disaster Reduction 2017

The idea behind UNISDR International Day for Disaster Reduction 2017 (IDDR 2017)  (13 Oct 2017) is to raise global awareness of the work that goes on worldwide to reduce the risk of disaster faced by millions, highlighting the effective actions, policies and practices in disaster risk reduction (DRR).DRR is central to much of the work we undertake at the Met Office, and throughout this week we have published a number of blogs looking at some of the ways we are involved.

Our Head of International Development, Dave Britton talked about the wide ranging work we undertake in a blog at the start of the week. We have also highlighted some of our international science and development partnerships such as the Tanzania Meteorological Agency.  This partnership has had a strong focus on user engagement in the development of weather and climate services.

Meanwhile, the CSSP China project, part of the Newton-funded Weather and Climate Science for Services Partnership (WCSSP) programme, included scientists developing an innovative technique to assess the potential risk of physically plausible – but as yet unrecorded – weather extremes. This technique was then used in the UK’s National Flood Resilience Review (2017).

A very different view of DRR was provided by Met Office Weather Impact Research Scientist, Jo Robbins, following her recent voluntary work in Sierra Leone. Working as part of a MapAction team and in partnership with the UN, Jo supported recovery efforts following the recent landslides. Not only was Jo able to put her Met Office experience and skill to good use, she also developed a deeper understanding of emergency response in situations such as these.

Crisis and humanitarian response work was also the theme of our most recent blog from Gavin Iley, Met Office Head of International Crisis Management and Resilience. In particular, Gavin was keen to highlight the importance of considering impact when using weather information in disaster response.

To conclude our DRR focus week, our Chief Executive Rob Varley talks about the importance of global DRR partnerships and the part that the Met Office and national weather and climate services from around the world play in reducing risk.

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Protection, prosperity, wellbeing: a focus on disaster risk reduction

Recent crises and disasters across the globe, including Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean, floods and landslides in Sierra Leone, severe flooding in the United States and earthquakes in Mexico serve to highlight the very real and immediate need for disaster risk mitigation and reduction efforts. With many nations still dealing with the impacts of recent events, the UNISDR (United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) International Day for Disaster Reduction 2017 (IDDR 2017) taking place on Friday 13 October is perfectly timed to highlight some of the challenges faced around the world in preparing for and mitigating against the impacts of disasters, as well as celebrating how communities and nations are working to reduce the exposure to and impacts of disasters.

The UK is a world leader both in responding to crises and in building resilience against future disasters, and the UK Government is committed to continuing to help strengthen global peace, security and governance as well as resilience and response to crises globally. As the UK’s national meteorological service, the Met Office works as an advisor to government departments to help them deliver on these commitments as well as supporting early anticipation of developing severe weather events. This helps enable early civil contingency planning in the UK and humanitarian response across the globe.

In addition to immediate crisis response, we provide global expertise essential for long-term resilience building, supporting efforts to build capacity overseas. This helps improve local response to disasters and mitigation against the impacts of our changing climate. We work in partnership with the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, national meteorological and hydrological services, non-governmental organisations and the private sector to develop weather and climate services across the globe for the protection of lives, livelihoods and property.

In the lead up to IDDR 2017, we will be publishing a series of blog posts highlighting our global disaster reduction expertise and experience. From our use of ground-breaking science to support the development of critical weather and climate services, to our humanitarian response to the Mediterranean refugee crisis, the Met Office is working at the forefront of disaster risk reduction efforts in the UK and across the globe.

View our DRR webpages for more information.

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Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre – third anniversary

Mark Gibbs – Head of space weather

It was nearly seven years ago, when my boss said “Mark we’ve got a little project for you called space weather “. Little did I know at that time what an adventure it would take us on.

We began forecaster training, utilising short-term project funding, in late 2011 following space weather’s inclusion by the Government on the National Risk Register (NRR). While the prospect of securing long-term funding from government looked remote and a viable future for Met Office space weather operations uncertain, we started producing our first routine forecasts in time for the 2012 Olympics. Then in late 2013, funding was secured and the Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre (MOSWOC) was created. It began 24/7 operations in April 2014 and was officially opened on 8 October by the then Science Minister Greg Clarke.

Today, three years on, MOSWOC remains one of only three centres manned 24/7 by expert space weather forecasters. The other two are both in the US (NOAA Space weather Prediction Centre and US Air Force 557th Weather Wing). Space weather, in the Met Office, has moved from being a project to an on-going programme in its own right. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) funds MOSWOC as a national capability and space weather remains as a ‘high’ risk on the NRR with Met Office being technical advisors to the UK Government on the topic. We continue to develop our capability and have just implemented an aurora prediction model (called OVATION) providing 30 minute ahead forecasts of the position and intensity of the aurora. It is available to the public via our website.

We hope the aurora model will significantly increase public interest and engagement in space weather over the coming months. Public engagement has been a focus over the summer with the aim of increasing understanding of space weather and its potential impacts. In addition to introducing automated alerts and warnings of space weather activity on our twitter feed to keep the public informed, we have increased our activity on this channel and have trebled our followers and secured official Twitter verification for @MetOfficeSpace.

To celebrate our anniversary, we are streaming a Met Office Live Space weather special on 10 October at 1pm. We will show viewers around MOSWOC and discuss space weather, the OVATION model and the recent activity with our team and Professor Lucie Green, space scientist at UCL’s Mullard Science Laboratory.

Through the first two weeks of September, MOSWOC handled the largest space weather event for over a decade. The whole team did a fantastic job throughout, providing advice to a number of users, stakeholders including UK Government, Swedish Government and the European Space Agency. While some minor impacts have been reported, the event was sufficiently large to test our knowledge and systems, without being particularly damaging and it has allowed us to identify some improvements for the future.

The last seven years has seen the Met Office transition from an organisation not involved in space weather, to become influential globally. The Met Office space weather team is represented on the committees of a number of UN agencies and I’ve visited the White House twice to discuss space weather, once to speak at the launch of the US National Space Weather Strategy in 2015.

When I look back at what we’ve achieved over the past seven years, I am incredibly proud.  I wonder what the next seven years will bring?

 

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Is La Niña on the way?

During 2015 and 2016, the planet experienced one of the largest El Niño events in a century.  El Niño (Spanish for the boy) is actually the warm phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation and climate scientists are now suggesting that this oscillation in tropical Pacific temperature is likely tipping towards its opposite cool phase, La Niña.

Ensemble members show an increasing likelihood of La Niña conditions developing during October and November. La Niña conditions are said to develop when the sea surface temperature anomaly goes below –0.5°C.

Perhaps less well known than its larger brother, La Niña (Spanish for ‘the girl’) is an event that can trigger significant impacts.  Professor Adam Scaife, head of monthly to decadal prediction at the Met Office, said: “During El Niño, temperatures in the equatorial Pacific can warm by as much as 3°C. La Niña tends to be smaller and rarely exceeds 2°C, but its effects reach across the globe and can have just as much impact.”

Historically, La Niña events tend to occur about once every five years, but forecasts over the last few months show an increasing risk of La Niña developing this winter.  A really big La Niña like that in 2010/11 is very unlikely, but the chance of a moderate strength event is now several times the historical chance.

La Niña is associated with a shift in rainfall towards the western Pacific. Regions from Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and north-east Australia will all be at risk of heavier than average rainfall if La Niña develops. At the other side of the tropical Pacific, Peru would be at risk of drought, but local fisheries would receive a boost as fish stocks can access additional nutrients rising in upwelling currents driven by La Niña.

The effects of La Niña aren’t confined to the tropical Pacific. If La Niña develops, then North-western coastal communities of North America would be at increased risk of a cold winter as La Niña increases northerly winds there. Meanwhile southern Africa would be more likely to experience a cooler and wetter summer than normal, and Brazil would have an increased risk of heavy rainfall in coming months.

Adam Scaife concluded: “As well as its regional effects, La Niña can cause a temporary cooling of global temperatures but the strength of the current event suggests that this will be no more than a tenth of the global warmth we have accrued so far due to climate change.”

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Atlantic depressions bring above-average rain for some

During the first half of the month, a succession of low-pressure systems tracking close to the UK brought rain to most places as fronts swept from west to east. After a cool, showery interlude around mid-month, a more autumnal pattern emerged with some foggy nights and sunny days interspersed with further bouts of rain.

Following August’s trend, provisional statistics for the UK for September so far suggest it has been slightly cooler than average and rather unsettled, although frosts have been reported by very few stations up until 28 September. The cool trend isn’t apparent everywhere though, as parts of northern Scotland, including Shetland, Orkney and Caithness were the warmest spots relatively in Britain, when compared with average temperatures. Shetland enjoyed mean temperatures during the month more than 1 °C above the long-term September average. In contrast, the maximum daily temperatures in some parts of southern England were around 1 °C cooler than the September average.

Dr Mark McCarthy is the head of the Met Office’s National Climate Information Centre. He said: “The UK receives weather influences from all points of the compass. However, the weather during September has been largely dominated by an influence from the Atlantic. This is evident in the above-average rainfall in parts of western Britain and Northern Ireland. The relative lack of northerly winds will have been partly responsible for keeping the temperatures of parts of northern Scotland above average.”

Up until 28 September, most places had already exceeded their average rainfall for the month, with a UK figure of 108.1mm with two days to go (UK September average is 96.4mm). Some locations, such as Cornwall and Plymouth, have had well above their September rainfall average.

Dr Mark McCarthy added: “Cornwall has experienced it wettest September since 2000 and there is more rain to come before the month concludes.” Other areas with well above average rainfall include parts of northwest England, northern and western Wales, Northern Ireland and northeast Scotland.

In contrast parts of southeast England, Herefordshire and Central and northwest Scotland have been rather drier. Provisional figures for Shoeburyness, in Essex, reveal that it has only received 26.8mm  of rain; just under two thirds of the long-term September average.

For temperatures, values have been close to or slightly below average so far, with daytime temperatures for the UK 0.5˚C below average at 16.0˚C. Some counties across southern England have had an average daytime maximum of 1˚C below normal.

With rainfall amounts generally above average, it’s no surprise that sunshine hours are below or close to average for most areas, with the exception of parts of southeast England near the Thames Estuary. UK sunshine amounts are 102.6 hours, 82% of average (124.7 hours) up until 28 September.

The forecast for the last days of September is changeable, with some persistent and heavy rain forecast for many areas as we head into the final night of the month. This means that rainfall amounts may increase substantially for some areas, while there is unlikely to be a surge of warmth to counteract the cool feel so far.

1-28 September 2017 provisional figures Mean temp (°C) Rainfall (mm) Sunshine (hours)
Actual  Diff to avg (°C) Actual % of avg Actual % of avg
UK 12.5 -0.2 108.1 112 102.6 82
England 13.4 -0.3 84.3 121 114.3 83
Wales 12.6 -0.2 149.5 128 96.4 75
Scotland 11.1 0.2 131.0 96 86.0 82
N Ireland 12.0 -0.3 137.6 150 95.6 84

You can keep up to date with the weather using our forecast pages, on our popular mobile app which is available for iPhone from the App store and for Android from the Google Play store and by following us on Twitter and Facebook, as well as using.

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Harnessing the power of the weather forecast

You will be familiar with checking a weather forecast before planning a day out. But have you ever looked at a forecast to find out the greenest time to put your washing machine on? Well, now you can.

Using data from the Met Office, today National Grid, in cooperation with the Environmental Defence Fund Europe (EDF) and WWF, have launched a forecast to enable the public and businesses to better understand and plan their energy use.

Using hourly weather data from the Met Office and combining it with historical data from the grid, National Grid are able to forecast demand for electricity and also identify the contribution from renewable energy flowing into the grid. Using this information, they can forecast the carbon output of the grid over a 48-hour period, and identify the periods of lowest carbon output and highest carbon output. In other words, how green the grid will be during that period.

Using this information, the partners involved in the project hope that electricity consumers across Great Britain will be able to plan their electricity use around periods of high availability for renewable energy, reducing carbon output.

Patrick Sachon, Met Office Business Group Leader for Energy said: “The green energy forecast is a great example of innovative re-use of Met Office data. As a scientific organisation we encourage the re-use of our data, particularly if it can be applied to develop a deeper understanding of the interrelation between weather and something that is so integral to our everyday lives such energy.”

Accessibility of the new green energy forecast is important to the project partners and they have made it available as an API (application programming interface) so it can be used to develop new apps and services. Duncan Burt, Director of the System Operator at National Grid, said: “We’re providing our forecast data in a format that allows technology companies to build innovative apps and software that could make a real difference to how and when people use energy. Clear and concise information that can tell you in advance when’s best to turn on the washing machine, load the dishwasher or charge your car for example, is a step in the right direction towards a low carbon future. This technology puts people at the heart of it, helping everyone to use power when it’s greenest, and likely, more cost efficient”.

Patrick Sachon said: “We look forward to continuing to work closely with National Grid to explore how our weather data can be used to better understand energy use.”

 

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Climate models: an essential tool for guiding policy

Climate models have come under scrutiny. Stephen Belcher, the Met Office’s Chief Scientist, explains the nuances of the science and why it is imperative now to reduce atmospheric carbon.

Are climate models accurately predicting global warming?

This question has been a hotly debated this week. Whilst climate models do not represent all aspects of our climate, they provide an essential tool for guiding policy by simulating the warming we have seen since the pre-industrial era. So how well do they do?

The figure below shows observations of global warming (in black) compared to the range projected by the group of models submitted to CMIP5, which was used by the IPCC for their latest assessment report on climate change. The 1880-1919 period was chosen here to represent pre-industrial temperatures so that three observational data sets could be used in the comparison. The observations lie comfortably within the modelled range. For example, the warming seen between the 1880-1919 period and 2016 is 1.10oC in HadCRUT4, 1.19 oC in GISTEMP and 1.12 oC in NOAAGlobalTemp, which compares well with 1.14 oC, the average of the CMIP5 models (which have a 2.5 – 97.5% range of 0.70 – 1.58 oC).

Comparison of simulated temperatures from CMIP5 models (historical and RCP4.5 experiments) with three observed near-surface temperature datasets, as changes from the 1880-1919 baseline. The observational datasets are HadCRUT4 (with an estimate of the uncertainty on the dataset) produced by the Met Office Hadley Centre and the Climate Research Unit; GISTEMP produced by NASS GISS; and NOAAGlobalTemp produced by NOAA. The model and observational data have been re-analysed to the same coverage as HadCRUT4 to enable fair comparison.

What factors need to be considered in making comparisons between observed and modelled warming?

First, during the so-called slowdown during the 2000s the observations sit within the lower half of the model range. This has prompted questions about whether the models have been warming too much. Analysis at the Met Office shows that these variations are consistent with variations associated with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. We have since seen record-breaking temperatures in 2014, 2015 and 2016 which signal an end to the slowdown and a return of higher warmer rates.

Second, the CMIP5 simulations were initiated in 2005, and emissions of greenhouse gases from 2005 onwards were assessed, based on estimates for socio-economic development. So the CMIP5 simulations do not account for the cooling effects of small volcanic eruptions which recent research shows slightly cools the modelled warming. (Further information on these topics can be found in Ed Hawkins’ blog, and in the Nature journal paper by Medhaug et al)

Third, the observations themselves contain uncertainties, for example due to difficulties of estimating temperature changes in poorly-observed regions such as the Arctic and Antarctica, and due to definition of the pre-industrial temperature, when the observations have greater uncertainties.

So can we limit warming to the ambitions of the Paris agreement?

Policy makers need to have reliable information about greenhouse gas emissions because there is a direct link between the amounts of total CO2 we have emitted and the amount our world warms. By studying this link, it is possible to estimate how much more carbon we can emit while remaining within given levels of warming. There is currently an intense research effort to reduce the current uncertainties in the carbon budget.

One recent study has suggested that remaining carbon budgets may be larger than previously thought. (The close agreement between the models and the observations in the figure above does not change this conclusion.) Meanwhile other areas of research suggest they may be smaller. For example, the next generation of climate models will include processes such as the impacts of thawing permafrost, changes to wetlands, and the impact of the nitrogen cycle on plant growth. Early evidence suggests that accounting for these processes will reduce the amount of carbon we can emit while staying within the over all budget and the global warming targets.

The Paris Agreement to limit warming to ‘well below 2 oC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 °C’ is driving a need for greater precision in climate science, both in the need to assess warming above pre-industrial levels, and in the need to assess carbon budgets consistent with these targets.

What remains clear, however, is that the aim of limiting warming to 1.5C remains a huge global challenge that requires rapid cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

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How are temperature records measured?

At the Met Office we maintain the UK’s climate records and these are used to monitor our climate at a national and regional level. To ensure consistency, weather records are only used from weather observation sites with calibrated, standard instruments and carefully monitored exposure. Although some records have been broken by non-standard stations, these are not accepted as official records for this reason.  Also, on rare occasions an extreme temperature is recorded at a weather station which is so at odds with readings from stations nearby that it will be discounted as unreliable.

How far do records go back?

Historical observations of our weather are stored by the Met Office, with individual station observations in our digital database going back to 1853, however there are historical paper records for earlier dates held in the National Meteorological Library and Archive.

When are temperatures officially recognised as a new record?

The historical observations are used for monitoring our climate and maintaining a set of official climate records for the UK. They are also used to highlight interesting facts about our weather and place current weather into historical context. But these arbitrary calendar dates, such as the recent August Bank Holiday, Christmas or Wimbledon, do not give a complete picture of seasonal or monthly extremes.

Each day real-time data is subject to preliminary quality control before it is released, such as cross checking against nearby stations. A record will not become official until thorough quality control has taken place on the data, which may take several months.

They may even be reviewed again at a later date to ensure they remain valid.

Historical records also undergo continual review. With millions of data points it is inevitable that the database contains very small proportion of questionable data.

Was it the warmest August bank holiday on record?

On Monday 28th August a maximum temperature of 28.2 Celsius was recorded at Holbeach. The highest temperature for the late August bank holiday in the digital archive was 28.3 Celsius at March (Cambridgeshire) on 27th August 1990. However this particular reading is considerably higher than all surrounding sites and therefore considered to be suspect. Therefore the August bank holiday of 2017 would be considered as the hottest bank holiday on record beating the value of 27.2 Celsius recorded at East Bergholt (Suffolk) in 1984.

It should be noted that this is a statistical quirk of the August bank holiday never having recorded a notable temperature extreme, and does not reflect a new national temperature record for the UK. We have seen higher temperatures later in the year than this. For example a brief heatwave in September 2016 saw temperatures reach 34.4 Celsius on 13th, and the highest temperature recorded in October for the UK was 29.9 Celsius on 1st October 2011.

For full weather extremes listings and historical records go the Met Office Climate section

 

 

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US total solar eclipse – the most photographed event of all time?

Today, the path of a total solar eclipse will move across continental USA, an event predicted to be the most photographed of all time. The eclipse occurs as the moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, casting a 70-mile wide shadow and moving across the Earth’s surface at an average speed of 1,651 mph. It will take the shadow a total of 90 minutes to travel across from Oregon to South Carolina, moving over an area home to 12.5 million people. Outside this path of totality, the entirety of North America will still witness an impressive partial solar eclipse; resulting in the most widely viewed solar eclipse since the invention of smart phones. It is this fact that has led experts to predict today’s eclipse to be the most photographed event of all time, dependent on the weather.

The yellow line shows the eclipse’s path of totality

Unfortunately, the eclipse will barely be visible from the UK, with the moon’s edge blocking just a small fraction of the sun’s surface. The eclipse will first become visible at around 19:40 BST, before peaking between 19:55 and 20:10, dependent on the location and the weather. To see whether skies will be clear in your area, check our forecast pages or use our app. In most places across the UK, the sun will set before the end of the eclipse, making the sun difficult to see as it sits only a small distance above the horizon. It is important never to look at the sun with the naked eye; methods of producing a homemade pinhole camera are available online.

Past and present, solar eclipses have led to some very important scientific discoveries, including the discovery of helium to the confirmation of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. A new video on the Met Office’s Learn about Weather YouTube feed explores a few of the most significant solar eclipse events.

Further studies

Despite observing eclipses for thousands of years, there is still a lot to learn from them. During today’s eclipse, NASA will study the reaction of the ionosphere to the sudden drop in solar radiation and temperature. The ionosphere is a thin layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, ionised by radiation from the sun. Additional observations will explore features of the sun’s corona, photographed for the first time during a solar eclipse 166 years ago. Monitoring the sun’s corona is an important aspect of space weather, because it is the source of coronal mass ejections. Ground-based and satellite imagery now replicate the effect of a solar eclipse using an instrument called a coronagraph, enabling the Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre to monitor the sun’s corona 24/7.

A coronal mass ejection (CME) is the large release of material from the sun’s surface. These events are not visible to the naked eye, except in the rare case of a total solar eclipse. In the year 1860, astronomer G. Tempel sketched what he saw during eclipse totality, drawing what we know today to be a coronal mass ejection.

Comparison between G. Tempel’s CME sketch from 1860 (left), with modern SOHO satellite’s coronagraph imagery of a coronal mass ejection in July 2017

Currently, a large magnetically complex sunspot region AR2671 can be seen in the centre of the sun’s visible disk. Therefore, there is a chance that a coronal mass ejection could occur. Be sure to check our space weather forecast and follow us on Twitter for further space weather updates.

Total solar eclipses happen somewhere in the world at an average rate of once every three years, but unfortunately you’ll have to wait a while to see one from the UK. The UK’s next near-total eclipse will take place in 2026 (96%), but a total eclipse will not be visible in the UK until 2090.

More information

NASA will be live-streaming the event this evening from 17:00 BST at www.nasa.gov/eclipselive

For more information on the eclipse and its significance to space weather, follow @MetOfficeSpace on Twitter.

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Jet stream brings cool and changeable start to August

After an unsettled and cool end to July, August has continued in a similar vein. Many places have been showery and cool so far, with a southward-shifted jet stream to blame. This has directed areas of low pressure, which normally skirt to the north of the UK in summer, to instead move across the country.

In between spells of rain or showers brought by these low pressure systems, there have been some drier, brighter days and sunshine amounts have been close to normal. However, temperatures have been a little disappointing, with no locations recording a temperature in excess of 25 °C up to 15 August.

Provisional figures show mean temperatures have generally been below average for August by about 1 °C, but central southern England has seen the greatest differences compared to the 1981-2010 average. For south-east and central southern England the period 1-13 August 2017 has been the coldest since 1987. Interestingly, however, if you compare temperatures for this period to those experienced in the years 1961-1990 then it wasn’t so unusual to see such suppressed temperatures for the first half of August.

In terms of rainfall, many places have seen more than half of the whole-month average already, with locations around the Humber and across parts of central southern and south-east England getting close to their month average. Up to 15 August, the UK has received 60% of the whole-month average for rainfall. Looking back over the last ten years, several Augusts have been wet over large parts of the UK, so the month does have a tendency to disappoint those looking for dry weather.

You can read weather summaries of previous months and seasons for the UK here.

1-15 August 2017 provisional figures Mean temp (°C) Rainfall (mm) Sunshine (hours)
Actual  Diff to avg (°C) Actual % of avg Actual % of avg
UK 14.1 -0.8 53.9 60 79.6 49
England 15.2 -0.9 44.4 64 86.3 47
Wales 14.1 -0.9 61.8 57 75.7 45
Scotland 12.5 -0.5 67.7 58 70.1 52
N Ireland 13.8 -0.5 53.8 55 76.0 56

For the rest of August, it looks like the weather may settle down during next week, bringing some longer periods of dry weather with temperatures also recovering. However, low pressure is likely to bring further spells of wet and occasionally windy weather later this week and early next week.

You can keep up to date with the weather using our forecast pages, on our popular mobile app which is available for iPhone from the App store and for Android from the Google Play store and by following us on Twitter and Facebook, as well as using.

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