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UK's Met Office weathers well

Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 02:44

June 18 - Emergency talks are taking place in the UK about the weather. Several years of extreme conditions across Europe have left many - from farmers to retailers - counting the costs. The world's largest meteorologist is hosting the summit. Hayley Platt reports on how increasingly important the Met Office's services are becoming.

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From hurricanes to heat waves, extreme weather is increasingly becoming the norm. It's also something which needs forecasting - accurately. The world's biggest meteorological organisation is in the UK. It had an annual turnover of almost £200 million in the last financial year and made a profit of more than £9m. It has customers in more than 50 countries - the biggest ones in defence and aviation. John Hirst is its CEO. SOUNDBITE: John Hirst, CEO, Met Office, saying (English): "We do two thirds of the world's flights and if you're in a plane coming back from Bangkok and your pilot says your flying time is 12 hours and 20 mins it's because we've given him a pretty good indication of the upper air winds and that forecasting helps the aviation industry save about 2.7 billion dollars a year." Accurate forecasting can save billions. The world's top two fashion retailers - Zara-owner Inditex and Sweden's H&M - have just reported lower sales as a direct result of this year's poor summer in Europe. They may end up cutting prices to shift unwanted summer stock. Food manufacturers regularly change their orders at the last minute according to the forecast. And many longer term projects - particularly in the energy sector - rely heavily on the weathermen. SOUNDBITE: John Hirst, CEO, Met Office, saying (English): "If you're building a wind farm or you're thinking about investing in a wind farm we'll help you understand where the wind is, what the hub height for your wind sales, what kind of motors there are. And then we run services to help people manage their wind farms, where they're planning maintenance or just what their power outputs are going to be." The Met Office employs almost 2,000 people and makes up to 4.5 million forecasts a day. It's £30m super computer has as much power as 100,000 PCs and makes more calculations than the entire British banking sector. Nick Grahame is chief forecaster. SOUNDBITE: Nick Grahame, chief forecaster, Met Office, saying how he reads the charts. "We've got normal observations from landsites, from ships, satellites and radar and all that information goes into our supercomputer and then that comes out with a load of numbers if you like and a load of pictures and then the forecaster this end needs to say "what does that mean to the public to customers"? Accurate forecasts can also save lives. The Met Office helps the UK's heath service estimate hospital admissions based on weather-related conditions. It also reportedly predicted the path of Hurricane Sandy more accurately than US meteorologists. Global warming is a constant issue of course. Hirst believes it exists and is man made. Whether it's the cause of the recent run of unusual seasons isn't clear. But scientists from the Met Office will be key to finding out.

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UK's Met Office weathers well

Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 02:44