Prof. Brian Golding, Head of Forecasting R&D
1 July 2010
The Met Office employs professionals and experts who are constantly expanding the boundaries of weather and climate prediction. Here we meet one of them...
Brian Golding's career at the Met Office spans 38 years. Yet it was as early as age 14 when he first became interested in meteorology while recording the weather before school for a monthly magazine about the local environment.
After reading Maths at the University of Leeds, Brian spent a summer vacation at the Met Office in Bracknell in 1972 before joining permanently in 1973. He soon became involved in a groundbreaking project designing the Ocean Wave Prediction System to support forecasters in the burgeoning North Sea offshore industry.
"It's good to know that your specific expertise can directly save properties and lives."
Five years later and Brian started a 1.5 year post, helping provide the 24-hour, seven days a week forecast service for public, government and commercial customers. The experience proved invaluable. He remembers in particular, an enquiry in the middle of the night from a ship in the Atlantic requesting a forecast and how he enjoyed helping them out of their predicament. "I realised at that point that I'm driven by solving problems. It's good to know that your specific expertise can directly save properties and lives."
After becoming manager and scientific leader in Numerical Weather Prediction, he developed a new forecasting capability based on a mesoscale model. "This system paved the way for us to move from simply forecasting for the whole of England, to a more regional scale."
Short- and long-term goals
On his return from a two-year secondment in Australia he took on work to develop a nowcasting system forecasts for just a few hours ahead, particularly of dangerous weather. This led to new hydrometeorology research feeding into flood forecasting.
As Brian says, "Very short-range forecasting is particularly useful for rainfall that, due to its variability, is very difficult to predict a long way ahead. Flooding is usually a combination of rain and river. Rain is the remit of the Met Office, while the Environment Agency specialises in rivers. So combined with the fact that our radar network is jointly funded it was a natural progression for us to work together and eventually the combined Flood Forecasting Centre was born."
Brian was busy throughout the nineties as he helped design extensions to the main forecast model including tactical decision aids for the Ministry of Defence. There were also high-profile international consultancy projects incorporating applied meteorology for road and rail transport, civil aviation and the offshore industry.
Pushing the mesoscale boundaries
In recent years, Brian has focused on delivering accurate, automated forecasts along with achieving even finer resolution than the mesoscale. The result implemented this year is the convective scale model. It produces forecasts for severe weather, pinning down where floods will occur to 20-30 km. Ultimately, using ensemble predictions that produce multiple forecasts by making small alterations to either the starting conditions or the forecast model, or both, this will enable the chance of a flood in a specific location to be forecast. As Brian puts it, "This is breakthrough science. You can calculate a 60% chance of a flood, pinning down the location to within 5-10 km."
Brian's career has certainly been varied, including everything from working on a location finder app. for mobile phones to discussing on the BBC News 2008's 'Typical British Summer' from a deckchair in London's Green Park.
Now, after a long and groundbreaking career, he is due to retire in a couple of years, but is keen to remain in meteorology. He plans to continue his links with the universities of Exeter and Bristol, to stay involved in advisory bodies and take on educational roles in schools. Perhaps the latter is his chance to share his teenage passion for the subject forged years ago while measuring the weather with a rudimentary thermometer, barometer and wind anemometer.