Monday, December 17, 2018

Why do we need your data?

Note from the WOW team: This blog post has been written by a member of the National Climate Information Centre (NCIC) based within the Met Office. Observations for the UK, such as those entered into WOW by our network of voluntary climate observers, are essential to put recent weather into context and to detect variations and possible long-term trends in UK climate. The author's thoughts and views below are their own.

I work as a scientist in the NCIC team. Our work aims to understand the UK’s climate in terms of trends, variations and extremes. Absolutely critical to this are the observational data on which we rely. Important aspects include spatial coverage (so all parts of the UK are represented), continuity (so we can look at long-term trends), quality (so we can have confidence in the integrity of our products), and timeliness (so we can produce near real-time products using as large a network as possible).

Currently, official climate observations from the UK come from a network of approximately 260 automatic weather stations, but these are supplemented by the Volunteer Climate Network (VCN) of over 150 stations manned by volunteer observers. The UK’s climate is highly complex and variable over small spatial and temporal scales, and in reality any network will struggle to capture the full details of the weather on a day-to-day basis. The number of stations in the network is inevitably a compromise between what we would like in an ideal world and what is realistically achievable. Nevertheless, the additional VCN stations (over a third of the network) are an invaluable contribution to our work and the integrity of our climate products. A recent research project also made use of climate observations from all observers submitting observations through WOW, to compare against results from the ‘official’ network.

So, what do I do on a day-to-day basis? My time is roughly divided in three. Firstly: designing the software systems to use and extract historic climate data from our archives and generate climate products (for example, gridded data, time-series, maps). Secondly: analysing climate data to try to understand the results in detail. Thirdly, disseminating information, for example on the UK climate pages on our website, in reports, or for the wider media. Overall, the NCIC team’s science output is used in a wide range of applications, including helping fulfil our remit for the Met Office Public Weather Service, providing climate data for the Hadley Centre Climate Programme and external researchers, and products which can be used by businesses to understand their risks associated with weather and climate. Examples of NCIC’s UK climate products may be found on the Met Office website.

From this.... Stevenson Screen used to house thermometers in the field

To this... An example map showing the spatial distribution of daily minimum temperature across the UK on 15 October 2018.

To me, this seems like important work, particularly in the context of all the current and future pressures on our world. The NCIC team follow in the footsteps of many illustrious predecessors, such as George Symons and Gordon Manley. To go back to the original question, let me quote Gordon Manley on snow (Manley, 1969): “A great deal of needless romance has long been attached in Britain to the subject of snow. I soon learnt to distrust the exaggerated stories, bad reporting and general lack of knowledge, and I set out to rationalise the available data.”

I hope you enjoy taking observations from your weather station, whatever the instruments, whether ‘official’ or otherwise. I doubt that future scientists in 100 years’ time will be interested in the current work of NCIC, but they will undoubtedly be interested in our data, and yours. Thank you for submitting your observations through WOW.

Manley, G. (1969), SNOWFALL IN BRITAIN OVER THE PAST 300 YEARS. Weather, 24: 428-437. doi:10.1002/j.1477-8696.1969.tb03117.x

Monday, November 19, 2018

WOW Developments

The WOW team at the Met Office are continually working to improve the website. A lot of the changes we make are in the background, but you may have noticed a couple of the more recent developments to the map visualisations. 

Based on feedback from users we have made some changes to the map layer for wind speed/direction. The map layer originally looked like this:

The new visualisation looks like this:

The number of categories has been increased from 5 to 8 so it is now easier to pick out where the strongest winds are at a glance.  The new categories have roughly been based on the Beaufort wind scaleThe yellow circles showing where the wind is being reported as calm are still there, but are less dominant on the map.

We have also added a new map layer, showing observations of Dew Point Temperature. This is a measure of humidity  and tells us how close the air is to being saturated. This information is useful to meteorologists to help identify different air masses, and for forecasting dew, frost, and mist or fog. 

The option to provide feedback on WOW is in the footer of each page on the website, just click on the 'WOW feedback' link at any time!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Who are our Observers?

Note from the WOW team: This blog was written by the Met Office Regional Network Manager responsible for our voluntary climate sites in Wales and South West England. The Voluntary Climate Network consists of approximately 150 observing sites run by volunteers, who submit observations at 9am every morning. These volunteers allow us to better represent the climatology of the UK, with their observations supplementing those of our automated networks. This record is a valuable reference for climate statistics. WOW is the primary mechanism for our network of Voluntary Climate Observers to upload their observations. The observer's thoughts and views below are their own.

As regional Networks manager for Wales & South West England I am regularly found discussing weather with all sorts of people, both in the scientific community, and outside. One of the most common questions I get asked is who are our observers? Well here is an attempt to try and shed some light on this.

We have had a manual weather station in Prestatyn since the 1930’s. There have been many observers over the years, but the recent team began as an experiment. In the past we have generally had one, or maybe two observers at each site. We are however finding it harder to get individuals to take on such a workload. Therefore in 2011 we tried a different method. With the help of Denbighshire council, we began an advertising campaign to recruit a team of observers. This involved local papers, and even radio interviews on the BBC. After a little time and some further interviews, we settled on a team of keen observers. We had a senior observer in charge of data input and rosters, and a team of half a dozen observers. This team has changed over the years. Our new senior observer Geoff, leads a team of around a dozen observers.

The manual weather station at Prestatyn.

Below are some of the observers thoughts on why they volunteer to do this job.

Geoff - Senior Observer
"I started volunteering at the weather station after seeing an advert in my local paper (about 5-6 yrs ago), since then I have replaced the senior observer when he retired. I get a lot out of firstly being just an observer, to now being senior observer being responsible for the day to day running of the site in Prestatyn, North Wales on behalf of the Met Office & Denbighshire council. As the senior observer I have to be on hand everyday to firstly get cover in place should one of the team call to say they can not get to the site, also to receive the reading via email or phone once the duty observer sends them each day. Once I receive them I firstly check them to make sure they follow, and then I can input them into WOW. All this does take time each day but I feel a real sense of community by doing it. Other duty's I have as senior observer are sending monthly reports both to the Met Office and Denbighshire council, and putting together roster's each month in order to make sure there is a volunteer observer attending the weather station everyday."

"I was one of the first cohort of volunteers to start the rota when the gentleman that had previously manned the weather station died. Volunteering just after I retired and looking for a useful outlet for my energies.  It was something I had little knowledge of on the technical side, but having a large allotment and keeping bees gave me an insight into weather conditions and how they affect growing, insect life etc. I enjoy being on the rota and going down to the Nova to take the readings, even on the cold winter mornings, it has greatly increased my knowledge of weather conditions, wind direction etc. I wasn’t keen on the new digital equipment when it first went in, but I have got the hang of it now.  I think it is good for local people to be involved with the station and it would be a shame if we went all digital."

Maxine & Steve
"I started volunteering at the weather station after seeing an email sent round the office not long after I  started working for Denbighshire County Council. I have always found the weather a fascinating subject so the opportunity to get involved and provide the observations to the Met Office was too good an opportunity to miss. My husband Steve started to come down to the weather station with me when I no longer had my own car.  Then after a change of jobs I found it more difficult to have the time to actually take the readings, so Steve was trained to do the readings, but I still have involvement by reporting the observations to our Senior Observer Geoff. Steve volunteers because he enjoys it and finds it interesting.  He also helps to maintain the Stevenson Screen and keeps the surrounding area tidy."

"My main attraction to the position was an interest in weather, having mental health issues means I’m unable to work, so this allows me some sense of giving back to the community. I continue to do this as being married with 4 children I’ll do anything to get out of the house!, I’m joking... I continue to do this as I feel it’s invaluable to collect the data to monitor the changes in weather for the U.K, manually read stations in my opinion must be kept as they’re a much more reliable source of weather observation." 

Further information about getting involved in the UK Voluntary Climate Network can be seen here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Storm Bronagh

Storm Bronagh, the second named storm of the season, brought heavy rain and strong winds to the UK on 20th and 21st September 2018. See here for a full summary of Storm Ali and Storm Bronagh.

The footprint of Storm Bronagh was clearly visible in surface analyses based on WOW observations. The dense network of WOW observations over England and Wales, along with other sources of observations, meant that we could track this storm in great detail. See below for the evolution of the storm. At each time step an analysis chart showing the position of the low pressure centre and associated weather fronts has been provided, along with an analysis produced from WOW observations. The colours on which represent temperature, the arrows are wind vectors, and the dark blue lines show surface pressure.

                                                       20/09/2018 1800 GMT

Strong SSW winds can be seen in the warmer air (the warm sector, between the warm and cold fronts) across much of England and Wales.

21/09/2018 0000 GMT

The centre of the storm is now over NE England. Cooler air can be seen moving into the West behind the cold front. The wind is still very strong across Eastern England.

21/09/2018 0600 GMT

Bronagh has moved off into the North Sea. Cooler air and Westerly winds can now been seen across England and Wales.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Guest Blog from a WOW Observer

I have a huge passion for the weather and I have always had weather stations whilst growing up, starting with the basic rain gauge and outside thermometer to now owning a “Netatmo” Smart Weather station kit, which is an all singing and dancing wifi and smart phone enabled device.

The reason I got this weather station was the ease of being able to see my weather data straight from my phone, no matter where I am. I also really enjoy sharing my weather data with other people and have created a Twitter account @CranbrookWx where my data is fed into tweets for all to follow and view.

I then discovered that with a little programming my Netatmo Weather station could be linked to the Met Office WOW website and my data could help contribute to observations.
I found it very easy to create my WOW profile and account, even giving the details on how exposed or not my weather station kit is. However, I did struggle slightly setting up the correct coding for the program to run between my Netatmo weather station and the WOW website. I was then pointed in the direction of a website called “” where all I had to do was link both my Netatmo weather station details and my WOW details together on the website and then it did all the hard work for me. Now my data automatically appears on the WOW website with ease. As my weather station is permanently connected via wifi there are no breaks in observations to WOW. I have also set up my account on WOW to public so anyone who is on there can see my observations, which are updated frequently, and compare them to nearby values too.

Note from the WOW team: We are always interested to add to the list of useful third party software on our support pages. Share your experiences in the comments below to help other users link up with WOW!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

26th & 27th July 2018: Thunderstorms over Eastern England

After the highest temperature recorded in the UK since July 2015 was recorded, a News Release from the Met Office described how the hot conditions would end in a bang, with intense thunderstorms forecast.

Summer showers and thunderstorms are notoriously difficult to forecast, we know if the conditions are right for them to develop, but predicting the exact time and location can be likened to trying to predict bubbles in a pan of boiling water! That said, thanks to WOW observations, Meteorologists now have one more tool to help predict when and where damaging thunderstorms are likely to occur.

High resolution surface analyses, which include input from WOW observations, were being trialled by  Met Office Meteorologists to help inform where thunderstorms were most likely to break out on the 26th and 27th July. The thunderstorms on the 27th July produced damaging winds and hail across Eastern England.

26th July

These plots, based on data from WOW observations, are from the afternoon of 26th July. The shading shows surface temperatures, the lines are surface pressure, and the arrows are wind vectors. A growing area of cooler air and higher pressure can be seen over North East England. This was a ‘cold pool’ associated with an area of thunderstorms, which can be seen on this rainfall radar image from around the same time:

Cooler, denser, air from the downdraught of a thunderstorm meeting warmer air at the surface can lead to further developments. The thermal boundary between cooler and warmer air highlighted on the plots from the WOW observations pinpointed where further heavy showers and thunderstorms would develop over the coming hours. An hour later the thunderstorms had developed further and the radar image looked like this:

27th July

These plots from July 27th show convergence, where air travelling in different directions meets (converges) and is forced to rise. Rising air is one of the ingredients for heavy showers and thunderstorms. The pink areas over East Anglia and Lincolnshire on the plots, which are again based on WOW data, highlighted an area likely to see thunderstorms develop on the 27th. Thunderstorms were expected to develop here once the temperatures were high enough for them to do so. Reaching a certain ‘trigger’ temperature is often another ingredient for thunderstorm development.

Nothing can be seen on the radar image over East Anglia in the morning, but by late afternoon intense thunderstorms had developed in this area:                                                  

There were other factors that led to the development of these thunderstorms, in addition to those discussed above, and Met Office Meteorologists would have been using all the different sources of information available to them to monitor the situation. The analyses drawn up from the WOW observations are just one of many tools our Meteorologists use, but the observations provided by our voluntary observers are certainly being put to good use.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Frequently Asked Questions

1. I’m having problems logging in to WOW 

If you are having problems logging in please contact our Weather Desk. Contact details can be found here: 

2. Where do I find my Authentication Key? 

To upload any data either automatically using your Automatic Weather Station or using the bulk upload function the Authentication Key must be set. To do this on your site page press Edit Site and then scroll down to section 2 with the Site Details. Any six digit number of your choosing can then be set as your key. 

Figure 1 – Site Page 

Figure 2 – Edit Site page 

3. What times/units are exported files in? 

Within the dashboard page for the site you want to export data from, select the Table view. Select your required start and end dates (Up to a maximum of a 31 day period) and then select the observation parameters you would like to view on the 'Observation Options' dropdown. This will then give you a table with all the requested values. 

If you select the 'Export' option rather than 'Update Table', a CSV file will be downloaded containing all this data. The times on these files are always in UTC regardless of the timezone of the station, or if daylight savings is enabled in the WOW settings for that site. 

Regardless of the settings for the site, the temperatures are always exported in Celsius, rainfall in mm, rainfall rate in mm/hr, snow depth in cm and wind speed/gusts in knots (Where 1kt = 1.15mph / 1.85km/h / 0.51m/s). 

Figure 3 – File export (Columns with a parameter not being reported by this station have been hidden)