Reading the weather
29 August 2014
From accounts of the weather on pivotal days in history to up-to-date Met Office research, the National Meteorological Library and Archive holds the most comprehensive collection of books on meteorology in the UK. And it's all open to the public.
Since its beginnings in 1854, the Met Office has amassed a considerable amount of literature and data, all vital for supporting public memory and knowledge of the weather.
The library holds an impressive collection of books, journals and reports on all things weather related (even cloudscapes in art), tracks the latest research by Met Office scientists, and offers on-site public access to a host of online resources. The library is also responsible for managing the long term preservation and public access to increasing volumes of Met Office digital publications. These will be stored securely for the long term on behalf of The National Archive.
And that's just scratching the surface. The archive - open by appointment - is a treasure trove of original source material, such as a collection of rare books that includes a first edition of Luke Howard's study of clouds.
The oldest piece in the archive is a 13th century illuminated manuscript about the weather. The collection also includes 18th century weather diaries, the original Beaufort scale and marine log books from historic voyages.
Some volumes are of particular, popular interest. Archivist Catherine Ross explains that materials about the Met Office's role in predicting the weather window for the D-Day landings garner a lot of enquiries. Read more about the Met Office and D-Day.
The archive also contains historic weather information that, while perhaps less pivotal, is nonetheless important. One of the longest running collections is the Daily Weather Summary (originally the Daily Weather Report), which began in 1861 and continue right up to the present day. Sarah Pankiewicz, Library and Archive Manager, explains that historic weather data is drawn on by climate scientists, both at the Met Office and much further afield. "Original data held in the archive is used for quality control purposes and is a key source for digitizing as we look to take our electronic data archive further back in time," explains Sarah.
The summaries and other forms of data held in the collections are of interest to other groups, too. These range from historians and authors seeking that extra atmospheric detail - to people finding out what the weather was like on their birthday or for more specific dates or events in history - such as D-Day or the Queen's Coronation. "A lot of the weather summaries have now been scanned," says Catherine, "so we can make them available quite easily."
Digitizing more content is a key strategy for the National Meteorological Library and Archive's future. Making material that is especially interesting available online will help make this information accessible to lots more people - in the UK and overseas. Another benefit of this, Catherine points out, is that digitizing "preserves the original sources from over-handling - protecting them for the future."
What's more, weather data is increasingly being created in digital formats - which could save some shelf space. As it stands, if the library and archive's shelves were stood end-to-end, they would reach over five times the height of Ben Nevis.
- A range of personalised gifts handcrafted from meteorological maps and charts supplied by the Met Office is now available from BirthdayWeather.co.uk . Bespoke weather prints are available on mugs and charts. You can choose a weather chart from a date that is meaningful for you - a birthday, or other special occasion - so the gifts not only let you enjoy a wealth of British meteorological heritage but also give you a relevant and personal connection to the weather.