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Data visualisation

From paper charts full of numbers and arrows to today's digital forecasts, the way the weather is represented has changed a lot over the years. But what will weather information of the future look like?

New technology comes with the opportunity to represent the weather in ever more useful and exciting ways. This is one of the aspects that inspired the creation of the Met Office Informatics Lab - a team of scientists, coders and designers who work together to create new ways to make environmental science and data useful.

Alberto Arribas, Head of the Informatics Lab, has a background in developing forecasting systems at the Met Office - an experience that has hugely influenced his work:

"In my previous roles I would see so many exciting ideas that could have a real impact," says Alberto "but it would take so long to get them outside of the Met Office for people in different sectors to use. The Informatics Lab aims to facilitate and make that process much faster by creating useful prototypes that can demonstrate what is possible."

In this video, Alberto explains how the Lab is rapidly prototyping ideas, pushing the boundaries of what is possible and enabling people to make the most of environmental science and data.

Pushing the boundaries

The Informatics Lab opened on 1 April 2015, and their first project began in earnest: an interactive 3D visualisation of UK weather in a web browser using data pulled from the Met Office's highest resolution model, the UKV. This project was founded on a curiosity about what it would be like to step inside a weather model and see conditions form around you.

For example, the visualisation could allow people to watch thermals rise from the earth's surface and condense into storm clouds - processes that are not currently shown in visual weather information such as daily forecasts. As part of this project, the team has created an interactive webpage that lets the user fly through the clouds, which people can test via the Informatics Lab website: www.informaticslab.co.uk .

The aim is for the completed visualisation to launch in November, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Met Office's first numerical weather forecast. Until then, the team will post their work in progress - which includes an interactive webpage that lets the user fly through the clouds - on the Informatics Lab website for people to test.

Working together

Encouraging others to try out early versions of their projects is one part of the Lab's commitment to collaborative working and helps them identify areas for improvement as early as possible. But it's not just testing that calls for wider involvement - collaboration takes place from the very beginning of the process.

The core team is made up of meteorologists, scientists, IT experts and designers - a varied skillset that means the Lab can take a project from concept through to implementation quickly and easily. They also have a wider team of associates both from within the Met Office and outside.

Having so many different perspectives to draw on has helped spark ideas for future projects - from ways for people to create personalised weather forecasts, to helping companies integrate weather data with operational systems.

"We want to make it as easy as possible for companies to draw on environmental information to make decisions," Alberto says. "For instance, a renewable energy company could combine meteorological data with information about energy demand, energy production, workforce availability and customer behaviour to better understand what possible scenarios they will be facing next week."

Getting involved

There are plenty of opportunities to join in with the Lab's work, including testing prototypes or developing code via the website.

Visit  www.informaticslab.co.uk for more information.

Inspiring the next generation

The Met Office is always looking for fresh ways to help people understand the weather - and an event called Design Storm earlier this year challenged university students to get involved.

Ross Middleham, Design Lead at the Met Office, set up the event as a way to give undergraduates an insight into working in the creative industry - and promote the role design plays at the Met Office. "I was keen to create something exciting that people could get involved with," says Ross. "I also wanted to showcase the Met Office as an innovative, creative place to work."

The daylong event included talks from industry professionals, before the students were set their challenge: to take web pages about snow, rain, clouds and extreme weather from the Met Office website and turn them into shareable content that could be put out on social media.

The day focussed on social media because, as Ross points out, "it gives us more freedom to be creative and use new technologies. It's also a way to get important information out to as many people as possible in an easily understandable way."

The ideas pitched back to the group included a working prototype of an augmented reality cloud viewer, along with an animated character called Raindrop Man, who could teach children about the water cycle and the importance of rainfall. "It was great to bring together different people with different ideas," Ross says. "You never know what the outcome might be - which is just the sort of thing we do in the Informatics Lab."

Twitter coverage of Design Storm was estimated to reach over 14,000 people, and Ross has since been invited to speak at universities and attend students' final year design shows. He hopes to make Design Storm an annual event, and possibly one that could have an even wider reach across other areas of the government.