How the monitoring meteorologist keeps track of everything
It is the desk that’s always occupied: the monitoring meteorologist’s. Every country with a MeteoGroup office has a chief meteorologist on duty 24/7. He or she monitors the general weather situation, is primarily responsible for a large group of customers and ensures that the meteorological database is fully in line with the expected weather situation. Expertise counts, just as availability. We are always there.
A thorough briefing and a clear checklist
In the Netherlands the morning shift starts at 5.45 am. The night-time monitoring meteorologist briefs both the morning forecaster and the early media shift. If there are many weather issues, such as slippery roads or stormy winds, more meteorologists will already be on duty. The weather situation for the current day and the coming days is being discussed during this briefing, weather and customer specifics are talked through, and weather elements and customers that need extra attention will be identified. After this briefing, everyone starts working, following their own checklist. During the shift it is critical that everybody keeps each other informed of important developments.
Customer demand determines the way of monitoring
The meteorologist in the Netherlands is mainly focused on the weather situation in his own country and gives clear guidance regarding all weather parameters, for all periods. He or she also monitors all kinds of limits for a range of customers. For many organisations the weather plays a crucial role in their work. Think for example of immensely high cranes and high-stacked sea containers in port areas. In the event of heavy gusts of wind, actions must be taken - in good time - to avoid dangerous situations. Or think of the low-lying polder landscape. If the weather charts announce excessive precipitation, water authorities must switch on the pumps at the right time.
"Many customers receive hourly information from us in tables”, says monitoring meteorologist Arthur Kappetijn. “But just a figure does not always tell the whole story. I recently had a customer who wondered why the heavy gusts of wind in the tables, were not yet present. I told him then that those strong gusts of wind would only occur around showers and as long as the showers didn't move right over his terrain, they wouldn't be too heavy. This customer then understood where the peaks came from and also went to monitor the precipitation radar himself. So you give the customer more support by explaining.”
The customer determines the margins and also decides how to monitor. As monitoring meteorologist Michiel de Vries explains: "There are customers who want a clear yes or no from us. They do not want to hear about probabilities or ifs or buts, but give us, for example, the task of deciding whether a train should run slower over a railway bridge. With other customers you have much more consultation, you can explain all uncertainties and variables and it is up to them to make the final decision.
The monitoring meteorologist is a historian
In the process of monitoring it is above all about fine-tuning the forecast. As Michiel explains: "By experiencing many weather situations, over many years, we not only develop a deeper insight into how weather processes work, but also knowledge about the shortcomings of numerical models. This understanding is important to recognize potential extremes that are sometimes missed by the weather models. Sometimes you have to dare to go beyond the usual rules, by setting out a sharper weather forecast. For example, a significantly lower minimum temperature due to the presence of a snow cover during a clear night. Also something like the exact course of a heavy thunderstorm is not always correct in the weather models, but we will have to forecast a direction.”
Interpreting radar images is a profession in itself. Nowadays there are many radar images available for everyone. But extracting a solid forecast out of it requires knowledge and experience. Showers tend to be very dynamic; they arise, dissolve and change form. The shape of the radar echo can provide extra information about, for example, the risk of extreme gusts of wind, which might be crucial for customers. "So what we often do is nowcasting and adjusting, so you're on top of the weather and you can intervene at any moment.
A bow echo over southern Limburg (Netherlands) indicating risk of heavy gusts. Our monitoring meteorologists will recognise by experience the potential danger of these showers.
Added value on the Danish-Swedish bridge
The Dutch weather room also looks beyond the borders of its country. When the bridge over the Öresund between Denmark and Sweden is closed, it is almost certain that there has been contact with the meteorologists in the Netherlands. Monitoring meteorologist Daniël Bleijenberg says: "I noticed this morning that the Multi-Model MOS, our own database, actually gave too little wind force on the bridge. When there is a southwesterly wind, the Venturi effect leads to a strengthening of the wind. So I increased the wind force by 5 knots.”
Stress resistance and well-founded guts
Not only are all the different customer limits continuously monitored during a shift meteorologist also check whether the various model data are entering the applications on time and correctly, whether the radar images are in order (no false echoes) and whether the satellite images are correct. This meteorologist also ensures that the weather maps for the next 5 days are analysed. The varied meteorological work requires a lot of stress resistance, perseverance and thorough meteorological knowledge. "You also need to be able to put yourself in the place of the client or in an event”, says Michiel, “in order to be able to recognise the potential risks for a customer.”
Just before the evening shift arrives, the forecaster executes an extensive check of weather data for a major European client. The data is from three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa. The handover then begins punctually at 2.15 p.m. The checklist is completed, all customers have been attended to and the next colleague ensures streamlined continuity.
The Rolling Stones may enter the stage any time now. But there is a heavy thunderstorm hanging over the forty thousand visitors dressed in ponchos. The concert organisers and monitoring meteorologists are discussing over the phone. This is what it's all about: forecasting at the cutting edge with full attention to safety, efficiency and crowd management.