Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Meteorological Office

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1854 The Meteorological Department was set up under the Board of Trade to bring together and digest meteorological observations made on board ships (both merchant ships and Naval vessels) and broaden the number of ships involved in these measurements. It was expected to research the possibilities of forecasting the weather, mainly to protect the safety of ships and their crews at sea.

Robert FitzRoy, a distinguished naval captain, was chosen as head of the department. His new job was to establish meteorology as a science and he set about developing the fundamental techniques of modern weather forecasting.

The first office was at 1-2 Parliament Square in London.

1861 Early storm warnings achieved reduction in loss of vessels at sea. The first forecasts for the public were issued, even though this was beyond the authority given by government.

1865 Fitzroy died; his second-in-commmand, Thomas Babington, took over temporarily. A fierce debate continued between the Royal Society and the Board of Trade about the need for a central Meteorological Office with a chain of land-based observing stations to supplement the ship-based observations.

1866-79 Forecasting for the public was suspended because of alleged inaccuracies. Nevertheless storm warnings were sufficiently accurate to reduce shipwrecks which led to complaints that this was affecting the ship salvage business in Devon and Cornwall.

WWI It was recognised that understanding the weather and being able to forecast it could help provide a military edge, supporting operations and improving safety.

Post-WWI The office was transferred to the Air Ministry, later the Ministry of Defence, and merged with the meteorological services of the Army and Air Force and part of that of the navy.

WWII At the peak about 6000 staff were employed in hundreds of offices worldwide

1959 the Met Office bought its first computer, a Ferranti Mercury, capable of doing 30,000 calculations a second. This was a major step forward in forecasting, making numerical-based predictions possible for the first time.

c.1960 The head office was relocated from London to Bracknell

1963 Long-range forecasts were initiated after the severe winter of 1962-3

1960s Satellites enabled a leap to be made in weather forecasting, providing a bird's-eye view of how the atmosphere moves.

1977 the first European weather satellite, Meteosat 1, was launched

1980s increasing concern about future climate change led to the Met Office taking a central role in establishing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

1990 the Hadley Centre was opened at Bracknell, creating a dedicated centre for research of the Earth's climate. It quickly established a world-leading reputation, producing pioneering research in the arena of climate change and providing vital advice to UK and world governments.

1996 Became an Executive Agency with a trading fund, which negotiated contracts for services with about 30 departments of government and agencies.

Established new headquarters at Exeter

2012 About 2000 staff with about 20 offices

See Also

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Sources of Information

  • [1] Met Office
  • History of the Meteorological Office, By Malcolm Walker; publ CUP