Doppler radar and weather observations supporting London 2012

Doppler Radar

In this article we look at how we developed and improved our weather observing capability ahead of London 2012 and how we installed key observation equipment to support the organisers in understanding and making the most of the weather at key Olympic and Paralympic venues.

Observing the weather

All weather forecasts begin from an understanding of what the weather is doing right now and high quality UK and global observations are a key part of what makes the Met Office one of the top two national weather services in the world.

The Met Office constantly makes developments in the way it observes the weather and we showcased recent advancements in our rainfall radar and observation network during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Doppler radar

The UK radar network comprises 15 weather radars which scan the horizon 24 hours a day 7 days a week by sending out short pulses of electromagnetic waves and listening for the echoes from raindrops. The difference in time between sending the pulse and receiving it locates the rainfall and the strength of the echo determines the intensity of the rain, sleet or snow that is falling.

Throughout 2012 the Met Office observations team upgraded the radar network to extend the Doppler radar coverage. The Doppler radar, which has been installed at Thurnham in Kent, will cover many of the key venues during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, whilst further Doppler radars in Hertfordshire, Hampshire, Devon and Shropshire complete coverage across all main event sites.

Radar echo

Doppler radar not only measured when and how much rain was falling but provided much more detailed information by analysing the change in the frequency of the radar echo caused by the raindrop's motion. This was then used to improve the forecast of the changes in wind speed and direction within a rainstorm.

Bruce Truscott, Observations Manager at the Met Office said: "Doppler radar is an important development in the Met Office's capability to observe the weather in ever greater detail. Having these improved observations will allow the Met Office to provide ever more detailed and timely forecasts of localised weather, such as thunderstorms, which have the potential to lead to disruption to the public."

Providing local observations for London 2012

The Met Office worked with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games organisers for over two years in the lead up to the Games to help them plan for a successful Games. Over this time we provided expert advice on the typical weather or climate of the venues and has installed dedicated weather observation sites at Eton Dorney and the Olympic Park to help build a better understanding of the local weather at these venues.

More significantly we deployed an off-shore marine observing buoy in Weymouth Bay to provide extra information on the winds and waves at the Olympic and Paralympic sailing venue that will support our detailed forecast models and onsite team who provided forecasts to the organisers, competitors and safety crew throughout the sailing events.

The Met Office observation network has over 400 stations across the UK continuously recording and transmitting all aspects of the weather back to the Met Office. The observation and radar network has been developed in-house using Met Office expertise in research and development and forms one part of the observations collected and then shared with weather forecasting partners around the world.

Last updated: 11 February 2015