Air Monitoring

Capturing the Evidence of Weather Impact and Climate Change

Aug 09 2021

Author: Jim N R Dale on behalf of British Weather Service

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Allow me to start at the beginning…. the beginning of life on Earth that is, because without weather and its older longer-lived sister climate, there would be no life, nothing, zilch.  There would be no flora and fauna, no viruses and bacterium, no insects or animal life, as I said nothing – and that includes the need for you to monitor the void. 

Our own very existence is the product of billions of years of atmospheric and planetary evolution, and within that evolutionary global petri dish, the governing master has been the Earth’s ever-changing climate, which has resulted in every type of weather imaginable and some we can never hope to imagine.  And that is why I state unequivocally, that weather and climate were and remain the most important impacting factors on this green, blue, white and brown planet of ours.  Or put it another way, it’s why what you might do in terms of the monitoring and reporting the weather is such a vital task.

More or less everything we do or can do as humans is governed by that which prevails in the air all around us, and it’s the same for all life on Earth as it will undoubtedly be for any life there might be on distant planets.  It is fundamental to life itself, to our own procreation, our health and wellbeing, our forward development and greater ambitions. 

But weather and climate govern us - we do not govern it. And yet, for the most part we take the weather and until of late our climate somewhat for granted, often allowing it to pass through our fingers or hair without a thought beyond transient praise or distain during peaks or troughs.  It’s not until it hits us hard or it becomes a real inconvenience to business or even our leisure times do we really fully appreciate the day-to-day, month-to-month and year-to-year swings of the atmospheric pendulum. More often than we fail to measure, record and appreciate what the various nuances actually mean to so many aspects of our lives. 

I mention what is in effect our ‘johnny-come-lately’ attitude to climate, simply because it’s only in these last 40 years and more evidently this past decade, that we as the arguably governing species have come to recognise that the tectonic rise in our own self-induced carbon dioxide levels have led to a sudden acceleration in global temperatures - both in the air and within the oceans.  Suddenly, panic and urgency are stirring, a reality check or from some quarters, outright denial. The arguments, demonstrations and consideration of the most appropriate solutions ensue. But in all this this maelstrom, who am I to preach to you or guide you in this the most important and pivotal of subjects and why you are engaged in what you do?  

I’ll attempt to rise to that by first briefly take you back to my childhood where I earnestly felt that I had an affinity with the weather. I loved to feel the wind on my face, or to watch from the relative safety and comfort of my parent’s home awe inspiring thunderstorms and lashing rain. Baking hot summer days in the mid 1970’s and the arrival of deeply laden snow every winter in my hilly northern town was a frequent and welcome event.  Weather, no matter what the element became engrained in my bones. Call it an early love affair; it was in any case deeply entwined within my being. And it was that close affinity that made me appreciate just how important the weather is to our daily lives. 

Cutting a long story short, as a young man I became a meteorological observer in the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. That meant travelling to far off destinations, across wide open oceans and seas, observing, recording and reporting the weather as it happened and forecasting what was to come next.  I was in my element, my childhood fascination with the weather had become a professional reality and there was no better place to embrace that reality than in the tumultuous Southern Ocean between the Falkland Islands and the tiny but insanely meteoric island of South Georgia… Ernest Henry Shackleton, Antarctic explorer and all that. 

The weather in that part of the world is often raw and unforgiving and my natural and learned skills were tested to their limits on more than one occasion. But in that I came to fully appreciate the value of measuring and documenting the often chaotic, chameleon-like weather and seas around me, it was vital. By doing that I gained a real insight into the local and regional nuances of the regional climate and the weather’s many guises, which in turn made anticipation of what was to come next that much easier.  You see, like anything in life it was necessary to understand the environment I occupied before stretching out a hand or a foot in a particular direction. By observing, monitoring and recording what was in the sky above or beneath my feet, the ship, the aircrew and I were able to move forwards (or sometimes backwards) with confidence, and confidence is always a vital attribute with concern to weather, much as the figures and data derived were too.

In September 1987 I formed British Weather Services, now the longest-established independent meteorological operator in the U.K. and possibly beyond these shores. This was all prior to the Internet, and computers at that time were in their absolute infancy, with most of my own duties revolving around media work and the provision of 1-7 day recorded telephone regional weather forecasts. 

But what came next was more forensic and involved the supply of historical data to insurers and loss adjusters in relation to insurance claims.  That was to be a golden door opening and with access to weather stations up and down the land and far beyond, the monitoring, recording and reporting of the various weather elements by fellow meteorologists and enthusiasts became pivotal to the tasks in hand.

As is normal, technology evolved. As a company, over time we moved into other spaces, some virgin and untested but all requiring as much precision as could be provided, none more so than working alongside sports bookmakers. Stadia level forecasting for the likes of Ladbrokes, Sky Betting and Bet 365 became fundamental to our business, after all weather impacts sports and sports betting outcomes as much as it does retail purchases, construction and agricultural fortunes and our own health and well-being. Many of the stadia had and still have their own weather recording equipment, it was as important to the clubs to acknowledge and understand what was occurring as it was to us. In all of that, we became very aware of some of the finer impacts of the weather, such as how hot, wet, windy or freezing weather might affect a football or rugby match to the point of being able to predict likely outcomes. It was and remains invaluable to both bookmakers and sports clubs alike… not to mention the punters! 

I could go on and on where the monitoring of weather and the subsequent appreciation of it has widened our brief.  Indeed, it may be hard to fathom this, but I am personally involved in forensic legal work, where there are disputes or crimes involving weather. In my time I have covered off murder, manslaughter, numerous road traffic accidents, indecent exposures, thefts and frauds. Yes, the weather finds itself in some very interesting nooks and crannies, as do I! 

If you wish to avail yourself of the kind of service areas we occupy and how we operate British Weather Services, our values and aims, then please feel free to head to our website where all is explained.
But before you head there, perhaps reflect on the importance I attach to sound accurate data and the sound accurate reading of it. If you happen to monitor and report upon the various parameters of the weather, then always know that you are doing an admiral and very worthwhile job, particularly in these uncertain days of climate change.

Meanwhile, given the bones I possessed, the experiences I had lived through, and the knowledge I had gained across a multitude of weather affected sectors I felt I had enough in me to write a book, so I did (well we all have at least one in us don’t we?). 6 months of scribbling during the onset of Covid 19 and 216 pages later I had conjured up a 2.5 hour read, entitled ‘Weather or Not? - The Personal and Commercial Impacts of Weather and Climate.  I won’t take you through the    22 chapters, instead I’ll leave you with a little poem I wrote at the very start of the book, which emphasises much of what I have said above and what follows below.

For every drop of rain, for every flake of snow,
For every rise and fall in the mercury,
For every breath of wind, for every ray of sunshine,
For every storm and for every halcyon day;
There is a commensurate and measurable impact
upon everything and everyone.
Understand, act and prosper;
or do nothing and fade to grey.
Moving on to the practical ways and means of weather-related measuring and monitoring of the weather at your own location(s), I’ll first take you back a few paragraphs to the time as a young boy I was observing the weather with my eyes, ears and yes, my bones. That’s because any observation of local weather starts just there, in what you see, hear and feel.  Some also suggest the nose is very good detector of weather experience or imminent weather change and I am not one to argue with that, as in my mind the more of our senses we are able to utilise, the better.  With practice, your observational skills will become honed; observing cloud types for example and using a good reference book to put a name to the clouds, can provide you with valuable clues. 

When monitoring the environment or the weather in situ, it’s of course essential to know what you attempting to achieve - which elements, which pollutants, what measurements you require and why. It’s all too easy to not see the wood for the trees or indeed the towering cumulus for the rainbow; to be distracted or to do something with half a heart thinking the equipment you may have set up will do it all for you. Well, if you are very lucky it might but luck only stretches so far and more often than not ends up as turning out to be bad luck. 

That ‘bad luck’; often starts with the incorrect siting of equipment. That is the wrong exposure for whatever you are trying to measure.  It sounds a little flippant and simplistic, but for example it is absolutely pointless trying to measure ambient air temperature if your thermometer is exposed to the direct glare of the sun. Nor is it of any use if your rain gauge is set up under a fir tree, or that your anemometer is sheltered from one direction or another. Every precision instrument is only as good as the place in which you expose it. We are not necessarily talking world meteorological standards here, so if you happen to wish or need to measure the air temperature in direct sunshine for your own reasons, then go ahead.  Each to your own and your own reasoning, but for the most part, the accurate siting of instruments to do the job you intend them for is absolutely pivotal.  

Another consideration when location the appropriate spot has to be the possibility of interference from insects, animals or indeed willful human beings. If you are ambivalent to the risks, then you won’t be the first person to check your rain gauge on what you had taken to be a dry period, only to find it filled with pee! 

Once you are happy with the positioning and exposure of your instruments, then the next trick is to ensure you are totally familiar with how to read the displays accurately, which is more often than not a doddle if the display is electrical. But more ‘mechanical’ instruments such as a hair hydrograph for measuring humidity for example, may take some practice and will almost certainly mean closely following any accompanying technical guidelines. I have also found that not rushing your interrogation also helps; your coffee can certainly wait.

Logging your readings on an Ipad, laptop or an exercise book is essential, particularly if you are measuring a number of the elements, simply because you almost certainly won’t remember all the figures all of the time.  Once logged and if applicable, start comparing your figures with other set ups within you own region. Hopefully, and all things being more or less equal, you should be comparing like with like.  If not, then find the odd one out and hope that it isn’t you and that bloody fir tree!

Finally, please remember what I said about the importance of weather and how it is the greatest influencer on all our lives, more so now as the climate continues to change and ramp up.  Have fun with your venture, strive to reach your goals, share your findings far and wide, and always enjoy what you are doing, whatever the weather.

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