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International Expert Meteorologists

2013 saw 6,000 killed and millions made homeless, when Tropical Storm Haiyan devastated the Philippines. This pivotal event catalysed the launch of a new Met Office team to better support national meteorological services - a team of International Expert Meteorologists - headed up by Bob Turner.

The concept of international meteorologists had been on the Met Office's drawing board for some time," explains Bob, whose six-strong team combines core operational and broader, non-operational experience, "but we'd never previously had the resources to make it happen. Haiyan's severity brought things forward, albeit with dual-role consultants who spend 50% of their time on international matters. It's about moving away from the idea of 'here's your weather forecast' to 'here's your weather forecast, its consequences - and how you can ensure the comms chain flows'."

Tried and tested

Initial work commissioned by the Philippines Government in the wake of Haiyan focused on helping the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Administration (PAGASA) better respond should such a disaster strike again.

Early initiatives to improve warnings for Philippines disaster response agencies and the public were tested for real just 12 months later, when Tropical Storm Hagupit hit in December 2014.

This time, though, PAGASA was better able to validate its forecasts through support from the Met Office's internal operational team - the Global Guidance Unit (GGU) - and by making the most of its recently installed numerical modelling capability.

Crucially, the Philippines Government was also widely praised for the way it managed communications surrounding the Hagupit storm.

Mutually supportive

The International Expert Meteorologists' role sits between the GGU, with which it has a two-way relationship, and the Met Office's more business-focused International Development team. The GGU keeps a close eye on potentially threatening weather events around the world, filtering relevant content from its daily Global Weather Assessment for internal Met Office customers and various government departments. At the same time, international meteorologists out in the field (advised on protocol and any local sensitivities by the Met Office's International Relations team), help GGU colleagues assess risks and prioritise efforts to maximise local impact.

"It's a mutually supportive approach," adds Chief Operational Meteorologist, Dr Will Lang. "Given the number of staff who are, or have been, in both teams, there's a very strong bond between them. What we have realised in recent years is that operational, diplomatic and business functions work best to tackle international matters when there's joined-up thinking."

Winning strategy

The International Expert Meteorologists' early successes in the Philippines have led to rapid expansion and formed a solid foundation for working with other vulnerable countries.

For example, a recent World Bank project has been looking at best practice in managing river flooding throughout the world with a special focus on the Rhine, Mekong and Limpopo systems.

June 2015 then saw an International Expert Meteorologists team member with meteorology and hydrology expertise travel to Mozambique to assess how well its national met service and responding agencies had performed during very heavy seasonal floods in the previous two years.

Another project in Vietnam is accessing UK government IFUSE funding (designed to support economic growth in developing countries through UK expertise) to help develop its warning and informing capability.

With the GGU already advising Nepal on the impact of weather events in a fragile, post-earthquake environment, the international meteorologists' team is already looking ahead to the chance to help the country better prepare in future.

Taking the long view

"Above all, it's a long-term plan - building up relationships that over many decades could see many national meteorological services having a synergistic partnership with the Met Office. The exchange of ideas is also a vital element. Others often have local expertise and understanding that we don't, for example that knowledge can help develop the way our models deal with tropical areas." As the number of countries that the International Expert Meteorologists support grows - alongside their depth of knowledge about them and an inexorable rise in extreme weather events - so will the need to add to resources.

"Within five to ten years," adds Bob, "I expect to see a shift towards dedicated International Expert Meteorologists - and more of them - who can spend 100% of their working day on the task, rather than have split responsibilities. The plain fact is this: keeping tabs on the entire world is tricky, but the demand for our expertise is only likely to grow." Bob continues, "We aspire to be a partner of choice with the goal of enabling protection, improving well being and increasing prosperity for people - wherever they are."