The role of the Met Office in World War One

November - 2014 marks 100 years since the start of the First World War. As we approach Remembrance Sunday on 9th November, we look back at the vital role the Met Office played in World War One.

The Meteorological Field Service, known as Meteor R. E. was formed as a section of the Royal Engineers in the summer of 1915. It's role was to support the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) by carrying out local meteorological observations and providing regular weather reports.

From the summer of 1916, meteorological observers ascended to 4000ft with the aid of Kite Balloons to help the artillery gain more accurate knowledge of the winds and temperature at altitude. This was perhaps the most important task of the Met Office during the war, as precise observations significantly improved the effectiveness of the Royal Artillery and enabled higher angles of fire.

By February 1918, the Meteorological Reconnaissance Flight had been established to give observations from even higher altitudes, with two flights a day giving weather reports from altitudes up to 14000ft.

As the war progressed, the demand for meteorological services became so great that by 1917 forecasters at the Meteorological Office Headquarters in London were working 24/7.

By the end of the war forecasters and observers were to be found working in support of the army on every front. Met Office staff worked on the front line predicting changes in the wind that might indicate the risk of the enemy launching gas attacks. Both sides used gas as a weapon during the war and the forecasters also advised on when conditions were right for the allies to launch gas attacks. It was a highly dangerous role.

The role of the Met Office and the importance of weather information and advice to military operations were considered so critical by the end of the war that the Met Office became part of the Air Ministry which ran the Royal Air Force.

Archive material from the time, including hand-drawn synoptic charts and some of the first hand-written forecasts produced by the Met Office for the British Army, will be on display at the Met Office library in Exeter from Tuesday 11th November. The displays detail the work of meteorologists in the First and Second World Wars.

factsheet with further information on the work of the Met Office in both world wars is also available.

Last updated: 7 November 2014

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