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Met Office forecasts in WW1

Although the Met Office was not involved in military forecasting from the start of the First World War, weather forecasts became increasingly important as the war went on.

By 1915, the Meteorological Field Service, known as Meteor, was operating from the British Expeditionary Force General Headquarters in Montreuil, France. Major H.G. Lyons, Royal Engineers, ran the service while two Meteorological Office staff; Ernest Gold and AEM Geddes were granted temporary commissions in the General List of Captain and Lieutenant respectively. The service was supported by the Meteorological Office in London which became operational 24/7 for the first time.

Battle of Passchendaele              

Poor weather conditions during the Battle of Passchendaele (also known as the Third Battle of Ypres) hampered military operations. The Battle of Passchendaele took place in a low lying area on the Western Front from July to November 1917. The water table was very high, just 35cm below the surface, and parts of the battlefield were swamp or reclaimed swamp interlaced by a series of crucial drainage ditches which were destroyed by shelling. The high water table meant that any trench or shell hole immediately filled with water. Such conditions were compounded by poor weather and forecasts became critical in the planning of military operations.

The weather from the end of July and through August was one of the wettest periods for 75 years. August itself was an exceptionally wet month; in Ypres 127mm of rain, around 60mm more than average, fell in August alone. When the weather finally improved in late September this prompted a number of attacks. The Battle of Menin Road Ridge on 20 to 25 September was swiftly followed by the Battle of Polygon Wood on 26 September and the Battle of Broodseinde on 4 October which established British possession of the ridge east of Ypres.

The Meteorological Field Service, Meteor, forecast the improved conditions and also, perhaps more crucially, the end of good weather and onset of poor conditions in early October. Ernest Gold’s diary notes meetings and telephone calls with General Plumer, commander of the 2nd Army and his Chief of Staff General Harrington warning them of deteriorating weather.

Synoptic charts for the Battle of Langemarck and the North West Europe charts for the Battle of Menin Road Ridge were specifically designed to cover the Western Front. They also included information from pilot balloons, small meteorological balloons used to track air currents.

menin Road Ridge synoptic chart 20 September 2017

An ever increasing trust in, and reliance on, weather forecasts is reflected in a telegram of thanks for accurate forecasting sent to Meteor from a senior allied commander.

Modern defence forecasting

By the end of WWI, weather forecasting had become key part of British military strategy. The Met Office again played a pivotal role in WW2, advising on the planning of Operation Overlord and providing key forecasts in the run-up to D-Day.

The Met Office continues to support British forces around the globe, with Met Office staff serving with the Mobile Meteorological Unit.

Although the Met Office was clearly appreciated during Passchendaele, huge steps have since been made in the accuracy of scientific forecasting. Our forecasting has supported British and allied defence operations worldwide for over 100 years, enabling the protection, security, independence and interests of the UK and its key allies at home and overseas.

This video, made by Simon Newton in Cyprus for British Forces Broadcasting Service, shows how our forecasts are used today.

This video, about predicting the weather in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, highlights the evolution of forecasting.