It has been another very busy year for us here at the Met Office as we have helped the UK manage the risks of severe weather, supported the world in the aftermath of natural disasters, continued our support of the UK economy and celebrated successes.
As the big freeze of December 2010 weakened its grip on the UK our forecasters focused on heavy rain and the risk of flooding in Cumbria in mid January. The Met Office, working with the Environment Agency, provided guidance and warnings of the severe weather and its impacts from the joint Flood Forecasting Centre based at the Met Office in Exeter.
The Met Office forecast the most likely track of Tropical Cyclone Yasi as it headed for Queensland in Australia, keeping the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other National Meteorological Services around in the world informed.
Our first award of the year was won by our Ocean Scientists who were awarded the Denny Medal for the best research paper of 2010 by the Journal of Operational Oceanography.
The Met Office used its global forecasting capability to support UK Government and relief charities in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Japan. Closer to home, the Met Office launched the Scotland Flood Forecasting Service in partnership with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. This is a new service providing emergency responders and the Scottish Government with the tools and forecasts to better prepare for and respond to floods.
We also launched improvements to the National Severe Weather Warning Service that brought clearer, more targeted warnings based on the likely impacts severe weather can bring.
High pressure dominated through the month bringing fine weather and warm temperatures. April 2011 became the warmest on record for the UK with temperatures some 3.7 °C above the average for the month.
By the end of the month the world’s attention was focused on Westminster Abbey as HRH Prince William married Catherine Middleton. Our forecast of sunny spells and a 10% chance of a shower through the morning was spot on as the centre of London stayed dry for the wedding while showers ran to the north.
Toward the end of May the Met Office Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) was called into action as the Grimsvötn volcano on Iceland erupted. We provided forecast guidance to support decision-making by the Civil Aviation Authority and airline operators on whether aircraft can fly safely.
US President Barack Obama, on a visit to the UK, joined Prime Minister David Cameron to welcome the growing partnership between the Met Office and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) in working toward the delivery of space weather alerts.
June saw the launch of the Met Office Weather Observations Website. Supported by the Department for Education and the Royal Meteorological Society the website provides a platform for sharing current weather observations from across the world. After just six months more than 12.5 million observations had been submitted.
Late June saw the first Heat-Health alert of the summer as temperatures reached 33.1 deg C in Gravesend in Kent – the warmest summer day in over 5 years. This didn’t last, however, as the summer was relatively cool with average temperatures of 13.7 deg C. This didn’t stop key events from going ahead, with the Met Office providing accurate forecasts for the organisers of Wimbledon and The Open Championships.
In July we saw responsibility for the Met Office move to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS). The move provides us with the opportunity to create, together with partners, a centre of excellence for scientific delivery in support of UK economic growth.
This month the Met Office became one of only a handful of organisations to achieve the prestigious Wildlife Trust Biodiversity Benchmark Award for protecting and promoting biodiversity.
The Met Office celebrated 150 years of forecasting for the nation on the 1st of August as it marked the anniversary of the first ever weather forecast appearing in print. This gave us, and the media, a chance to reflect on the huge progress made in meteorology and the Met Office’s role as a pioneer at the forefront weather science.
A research project investigating how people respond to probabilities in weather forecasts became the largest of its kind ever carried out after thousands of people logged on to play an online game. This is part of our ongoing work to look at ways to help people make better use of our forecasts.
After tracking across the Atlantic, a post tropical storm that had formerly been Hurricane Katia arrived on UK shores bringing some very strong winds. This was the most powerful ex-hurricane to reach the UK since Hurricane Lili in 1996. Accurate forecasts from the Met Office and frequent updates on the progress of the storm helped people in affected areas to prepare and stay safe.
The UK set a new record temperature for the month of October when Gravesend recorded 29.9 °C on the 1st October. This followed several days of exceptionally warm weather. Wales also secured a new October record when Hawarden reached 28.2 °C on the same day.
The Cold Weather Alert Service was launched to provide public alerts to help vulnerable groups keep well during winter. We also launched a number of products including a new route based forecast service for winter road maintenance that gives road operatives the opportunity to grit routes selectively and Weather Windows – designed to help airports manage resources around weather-related demands.
The Met Office also secured three awards. Our Atmospheric Dispersion Group won the Science, Engineering & Technology Award at the prestigious Civil Service Awards for their work during the volcanic eruptions and Japan nuclear incidents. Dr Adam Scaife, one of our leading scientists won the Lloyd’s Science of Risk prize for research which has shed new light on how UV radiation from the Sun can influence weather over Europe. We also garnered the Best Use of Social Media award in the public sector at the Computer Weekly’s Social Media Awards 2011.
December saw the publication of the results of a major new scientific assessment of climate change, highlighting the changes the world has already seen and the impacts it could face if global temperature changes are not limited. The assessment, commissioned by Chris Huhne – the UK’s Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change – and led by the Met Office Hadley Centre, studied 24 different countries, to support policy decisions on climate change.