This primary assembly looks at the work of the meteorological office and the people who are involved with forecasting the weather as part of their career

In Britain, debating the weather is a national past time. At this time of the year we’re all pondering the important question – is it going to be a hot summer?

You don’t have to use a film clip, but if you want to show Dan Corbett in action, describing the weather as being ’like cold treacle running down fudge pie’ for instance, go to YouTube and search ‘Dan Corbett’ and ’treacle’.

[Looking out of the window] I wonder what the weather is going to be like today? Do you think it will be hot or cold? [Take suggestions] Yes, you’re probably right. But what do you think the weather will be like tomorrow? [Take suggestions] Hmm, that’s probably right, too. But do you think we’ll all have a hot summer holiday in Britain this year? [Take suggestions]

Yes, that’s much harder to predict, isn’t it? Of course, for some people, it’s their job to tell us what the weather is going to be like. We hear weather updates on the radio, see them on the telly and read about them in the newspapers.

It must be a tricky job telling people the weather: if you tell them it’s going to rain they look at the poor weatherman or weatherwoman as if it’s their fault. And then if they say it’s going to be sunny and it isn’t, they get the blame for that, too.

There are lots of natural folklores about how to predict the weather. For example, if you hang a piece of seaweed outside and it goes all dry, it’s going to be a dry day; if it seems damp, it’s going to rain. Also, if you have a pine cones from fir trees and stays closed, the weather is likely to be wet, and dry if it opens up, so its seeds can spread. You might be surprised to hear that these methods of predicting the weather can be fairly accurate. That’s because both the seaweed and the pinecone are responding to the amount of moisture in the air. If there’s lots of moisture in the air, it is likely that it will eventually fall as rain. (1)

But people who tell us about the weather for their job use a lot more accurate and reliable methods than these to predict the weather. They are scientists who specialise in our atmosphere. The scientific name of the study of weather is called meteorology.

There’s even a government department called the Met Office that tracks the weather constantly. Why do you think the weather is so important that it has its own government department? [Take suggestions]

The Met Office’s Story
The Met Office began in 1854. One of their most important jobs was to warn ships about gales out at sea. But the service really took off with the development of the telegraph in 1870. This meant that information could be sent out much more quickly.

A few years later, in 1879, the Met Office began sending forecast information to newspapers. Imagine how useful that was! Ladies knew whether they needed their umbrella or their parasol, and gentlemen knew whether they required a big coat to keep off the rain or a boater hat to keep off the sun.

After the first world war, the Met Office became part of the government’s Ministry of Defence. Imagine that: people who worked out what the weather was going to be now worked for the government! Of course, the weather was crucial to know whether or not ships could set out to sea, whether the small, fragile, wooden aeroplanes could fly and whether or not military troops could be moved.

For the D-Day operations of June 1944, the deployment of tens of thousands of troops from the south coast of England to France to fight the Nazis, was delayed by 24 hours because of poor weather – predicted by the Met Office.

Since then the Met Office has been broadcasting the Shipping Forecast on BBC radio four-times a day, every day. This tells sailors and fishermen if it’s safe to set sail, as well as the warning people about severe weather such as floods, snow, hail or fog, and whether it’s safe to drive a car or even leave the house.

And it’s not just sailors and ordinary people like you and me who listen to the weather. Councils need to know whether they should order more salt and grit for the roads or whether they’ll be helping people who have been flooded. Forecasts can even tell people what the air quality will be – very useful if you have asthma or hay fever – and can tell you whether or not you’ll need suntan lotion, by forecasting the amount and strength (the UV index) of sunshine.

The Met Office forecasts the weather using a wide variety of scientific techniques. They have weather satellites in space and use observations from weather stations on earth to send reports that are then processed by huge supercomputers. These supercomputers then use the information to try to predict the weather: not for just a few days ahead, but weeks, months, years and even decades! They’re a useful source of information about how our climate is changing. It’s a big job and meteorologists are highly trained people.

Dan Corbett’s story
One of the most popular weathermen is Dan Corbett. He’s a hit on YouTube for his flamboyant and exciting style of speaking. He even has several fanblog sites! Dan is the man who has described bad weather as being ’like cold treacle running down fudge pie’ or ‘like a two-legged octopus’. I’d like to see one of those! But how did Dan become a meteorologist?

Daniel was born in Essex but spent much of his life growing up in America. He studied science and took a degree in Meteorology at university. He worked all over America forecasting the weather until he came back to Britain to work for the Met Office. Why does he find the weather so fascinating?

‘I loved the weather and wanted to learn more about it, especially having grown up in the U.S. with its big snowstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes… Every day is different.’ (2)

So the big question is, will it be a hot summer this year? Well, the Met Office’s long-range forecast says it will be a bit warmer than previous summers, and less rain than we’ve come to expect in recent years. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for that!

PrayerDear Father,

Thank you for the dedicated scientists who work to tell us what the weather is going to be. Thank you for the rain and the sun that makes things grow; thank you for the wind that cools in the summer and the snow that we can play in the winter. Amen.

We are very lucky to have a mild, temperate climate in Britain. Some countries suffer terribly from extremes of heat, cold, drought or flooding.

Good gracious!
Britain has a temperate climate. This means we rarely experience extremes of temperature. But lots of other countries do…

  • The hottest place in the world is the Lut Desert in Iran where the temperature reached 71° C. In Britain the temperature rarely goes above 35° C. (3)
  • The coldest place in the world is Vostok, Antarctica at a chilly -89.2° C. In Britain, -10° C is considered very cold indeed. (4)
  • The driest place is the Atacama Desert in Chile, South America. Some parts of the desert haven’t had rain for 400 years! (5)
  • One of the wettest places on earth is Mount Waialeale on Hawaii’s Kauai Island, with 12 metres of rain every year (6). But another contender for the title is Cherrapunjee in India. On the 16th June 1995, 1.5 metres of rain feel in just one hour (7).

Further information
The Meteorological Office has a useful ‘learning’ section for teachers and children. The ‘weather experiments’ in particular, are interesting: Make a cloud in a glass; Weather fronts; Measuring a puddle; Make a sundial; Make a tornado in a jar; Water cycle in a bowl; Make a windmill.

Find out more about Dan Corbett


All websites accessed 19th July 2009

This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2009

About the author: Jane A. C. West

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