The 23 March marks World Meteorological Day, commemorating the coming into force of the Convention establishing the World Meteorological Organization in 1950. So, to mark the occasion, I thought I’d share a bit about the work I do at NATS Swanwick, where I’ve been based since 2016, when we first trialled having an Operational Meteorologist here full-time.

Being embedded within NATS Swanwick Centre and working alongside the operational teams means that the wider Met Office team and I have a far better understanding of how air traffic control works. This way of working enables us to tailor meteorological information for the controllers and talk in the same language – there are a lot of acronyms and airspace sector names! As a result, operational teams are provided with the most relevant information. We filter out detail that they don’t need while focusing on information that is going to be the most helpful. For example, notifying the team about extreme weather conditions during peak travel times or in the busiest sectors of airspace.

On a day-to-day basis, we work closely with Met Office teams based at Heathrow, Exeter and Aberdeen. By doing so we make sure that civil aviation customers, including NATS, are receiving the most accurate, timely and consistent weather forecasts to ensure that safe and efficient operational decisions can be made.

When airspace is busy, bad weather is one of the hardest things for air traffic controllers to deal with. It is so unpredictable and often means that aircraft are not able to fly their usual routes, resulting in unusual flight patterns that add complexity to already complex airspace.

That’s why it’s so important to provide a wide range of meteorological forecasts and reports. These forecasts include high-level monthly outlooks that can be shared with airlines and airports, a rolling five-day forecast for the planning teams and senior management, as well as on-the-day monitoring and tracking of storm cells during the summer months – across Terminal Control and Area Control.

Even though my team and I have been working from home for the past year, and there has been far fewer aircraft in the sky, we’ve still provided our usual service to help ensure what flights there are face minimal disruption from adverse weather.

Most recently, we’ve been analysing the impacts of historical strong wind events, including last year’s Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis, to better understand the relationship between certain wind conditions and their impact on operations. We are hopeful that the results from this project can better support operational decision making during strong windstorms in the future.

We can’t be sure of when we can all fly again – hopefully soon – and we can’t quite be sure what the weather will be like when we can, but we can certainly continue to provide the most relevant weather information and data to our air traffic control colleagues and help them do the best job they can, safely and efficiently.


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