Alex’s Journey from Maths Graduate to Operational Meteorologist
What attracted you to the Met Office?
I work in the Met Office Ops Centre – the hub of forecasting at the Met Office. When I decided to get into weather forecasting, the Met Office was, for many reasons, the obvious choice. It’s the big one that everyone’s heard of. Even now when I meet someone new and I say, “I’m a weather forecaster”, they always ask, “For the Met Office?” I have a lot of pride in working for the Met Office.
How did you start working at the Met Office?
My route into weather took slightly longer than some. My first degree was in mathematics and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after that so I got a graduate job at an engineering company. After about 18 months I realised that it wasn’t for me. So, I looked into things that interested me more and one of them was weather. That’s when I went to the University of Reading to do a Masters in Meteorology. After that, everything was geared towards joining the Met Office as a forecaster. Within a month or two of graduating I was then working here. I started the Initial Forecasting Course (IFC) in October 2011 which involves six months in the Met Office College and six months on the job training, so I became a fully qualified forecaster in September 2012.
What sort of roles have you had in the Met Office?
I’ve always stayed at the Exeter head office, starting off in the aviation and commercial section then branching out into forecasting for the Public Weather Service producing forecasts for our website, as well as helping the Chief Operational Meteorologist. My primary role is now forecasting in the Media Services team, though I still do aviation forecasting occasionally and have just started a detachment to the Press Office.
What sort of things do you do in your role in the media team?
We provide weather information and graphics for ITV national and regional weather forecasts, as well as Good Morning Britain, STV and both UTV Northern Ireland and UTV Republic of Ireland. We’ve got the equipment to do live radio and TV interviews from the Met Office which is an enjoyable part of the work. We also produce and present the National Weather videos for the Met Office homepage.
Do you use your forecasting skills outside of work?
Everybody always asks me what the weather is going to do and it’s nice to be able to look up at the sky and have a general idea whether it’s going to rain right now or if it’s going to be dry. At work I use the data provided by the supercomputer and while I don’t have access to all that at home, I’ll use the Met Office app to keep up to date with things. Outside of work I’ll keep an eye on Twitter to keep up to date with what’s happening because it interests me.
What kind of training and development opportunities have you had at the Met Office?
The IFC taught me how to forecast but I’ve also had media training which covered things like talking to the camera when presenting and how to respond to journalists. We were taught ways of making sure when answering questions we get across what needs to be communicated to the public, making things interesting and informative as well as getting the key messages across.
What experience have you gained while at the Met Office?
I’ve learnt a lot about the weather and also how to work in demanding situations. Every shift I have several deadlines that have to be met. Sometimes this can be quite tight, especially if there’s severe weather around, and it’s on these days when it’s most important to get our products out. I’ve also been able to do a lot of TV and radio work which I really enjoy and hope to do more of.
What do you get up to day to day?
The start of the day is usually quite hectic on a day shift. There’s a lot to do in a short space of time. First I prepare all the graphics for the ITV regional presenters. After sending them to the presenters I give briefings over the phone to each presenter on what to say for their individual regions. We also create the graphics for the ITV national weather presenter and brief them on what to say. They are very limited time wise as generally in a day they have three broadcasts – two 45 seconds long and another of one minute and 40 seconds. When conveying a forecast for the whole of the UK that’s not much time to get things across, especially when there’s hazardous weather. We also produce other forecasts including the national forecast for our own website and give further briefs.
What do you hope to gain from your detachment to the Press Office?
I want to experience a different side of the office. I’ve been forecasting for several years and know Ops Centre well but the Met Office is much bigger than that. I’m looking forward to speaking with people from different parts of the office and learning about what they do. It’s also an interesting challenge as although there are things that I have experience in, like talking to the press, parts like writing blogs and press releases are a little outside my comfort zone so I’m looking forward to testing myself and gaining experience.
How do you think your career might progress at the Met Office?
My next progression would be to move from Operational Meteorologist to Senior Meteorologist, and then on from there. There is a fairly natural route of progression within Ops Centre but there are no guarantees. You have to be self-motivated and set challenges for yourself – it is not all based on experience, it is really down to drive and understanding of the weather. There are also opportunities within the Met Office away from forecasting
What has surprised you about the Met Office since you started working here?
The size of the office and the locations. In forecasting there are people working all around the UK and abroad; Ascension Island, Antarctica, to name just a few places. It is exciting to be part of something so big. It also surprised me how much more is going on around the office.
What does the Met Office give you that you feel you couldn’t get elsewhere?
The best thing is that I actually enjoy my job. I enjoy the challenges that get thrown at me. In the media team I love the things I get to do. Just the other day I was on Radio 5 Live talking to Adrian Chiles. Then Bargain Hunt came to do some filming here. Things like that just don’t happen in other lines of work and it makes things interesting, fun and exciting