Weather in the blood
15 April 2013
Alex Hill's nearly four decade career at the Met Office has seen him in diverse roles including airport observer and aviation forecaster, TV weatherman, London Weather Centre supremo, and Regional Manager for South of England and Europe. Today, he is located in Edinburgh as Chief Government Adviser, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Since 2008 Alex has been responsible for ensuring that Scotland and Northern Ireland benefit as fully as possible from the Met Office's developing capability in weather and climate.
"The Met Office is a household name and we are in peoples' living rooms on a daily basis, but there is less understanding and visibility of the full range of things we do and the scale of the Met Office in terms of science, supercomputing and communication. It is really important that we are able to share all this in the right way - with Governments, Parliaments and other stakeholders. At the end of the day, it's all about making sure the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland get full value from what we do."
Alex's vast experience makes him uniquely qualified for a complex role.
The nature of what the Met Office does means that we have to communicate with a wide range of people on a wide range of issues - something that can be a real challenge. Over the nearly five years Alex has been in post those challenges have included everything from Icelandic volcanoes to UK climate change projections and the introducing the new National Severe Weather Warning Service (NSWWS), not to mention several episodes of severe weather.
"We work closely to support the Scottish Government, in particular to keep Scotland moving in severe weather," says Alex, "but we've also provided support on the Climate Change Act and Flood Risk Management Act (Scotland). Working in partnership with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) to set up the Scottish Flood Forecasting Service in 2009 was really important. And our team of weather advisors in Scotland is an integral part of resilience operations and planning, regularly briefing ministers and senior civil servants."
Northern Ireland is another area where we increasingly work to help others take advantage of our forecasts and advice across a range of environmental hazards. Here, as across the nation, the work of people like Alex in the Met Office has led to a better understanding of how the Met Office can help open up new opportunities to keep the public safe, businesses prosper, and to enable wise choices.
A people person for a people job
Alex combines in-depth scientific knowledge with excellent communications skills that have shaped his career and led him into so many 'people-focused' roles.
His interest in presenting goes back to forecasting stints at both ITN National Weather and the London Weather Centre - a time during which he developed a successful series of courses for forecasters. His warm, easy confidence again came in useful when performing a TV song and dance routine with Fawlty Towers' Andrew Sachs for Comic Relief in 1993.
But comedy turns aside, what does a 'typical day' for Alex involve?
"Well, there's no such thing as a typical day in my job," laughs Alex, "but there are some routine things such as answering queries or preparing presentations and monitoring who's been saying what about the weather."
Weather and climate have a big impact on energy demand and supply and the Met Office supports the energy industry across the UK. "Here in Scotland, through the Met Office in Aberdeen we deliver forecasts that support the safety of offshore operations and we also advise on renewable opportunities - so I might be talking to stakeholders or putting them in touch with the right expert at the Met Office."
Or Alex might find himself preparing presentations for a forthcoming conference. This could be for organisations such as Scottish Renewables or Sniffer (Scotland and Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research), exploring what's happening around buildings and infrastructure as part of the Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme, for example.
Alternatively, Alex might be called on to support BBC Scotland as they prepare a documentary marking the anniversary of the big storms that lashed the north in January 2011.
Whatever the project, the objective is always to ensure the Met Office knowledge, science and capability is available - and the right information gets put in front of the right people.
Education in its broadest sense
The Met Office is committed to increasing the public's understanding of science, particularly, Met Office science. The science of meteorology is something that affects everyone, and is something of a national obsession. Educating audiences of all kinds is central to Alex's advisory role - especially in his role as a STEM Ambassador, which involves inspiring people in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths through lectures and other events.
"Education is a very big thing for me," says Alex, "so I also visit schools, colleges and universities all over Scotland. And along with things like being invited to be a judge at 'The Big Bang' fair for UK young scientists and engineers to be held in March 2013, I also make regular trips to organisations such as the Scottish Traditional Skills Training Centre (STSTC)."
A recent joint presentation to the STSTC with a colleague from Historic Scotland focused on the impact of climate change for stonemasons, roofers and other craftsmen who repair World Heritage buildings like those found in Edinburgh.
'Fun' is a word that Alex frequently returns to as he talks about his long and varied career working in a field that's clearly a lifelong passion. Both the Met Office and the numerous bodies Alex supports throughout Scotland and Northern Ireland are stronger thanks to the energy, ideas and commitment he brings to a vital and constantly evolving role.