More than just the weather

Kate Stoakes, Executive Assistant to the Met Office Chief Executive, describes the variety of services the Met Office provides for businesses ...

Ever since I can remember I have been familiar with the Met Office as the household name behind TV forecasts, though I now realise that is just a small part of the Met Office picture.

Before working at the Met Office I was in the forces so when I started at the Met Office two and a half years ago as Executive Assistant (EA) for the then Chief Executive, John Hirst, I was aware that the Met Office works with a variety of military customers. However, it was not until I started going to meetings and working as an EA that I realised the sheer breadth of what the Met Office does for commercial customers. 

Really, it blows my mind. As well as all the services which support and protect essential national infrastructure such as transport and utilities networks, there is a range of services for business and industry. For instance, I was particularly surprised by the work the Met Office does for the oil and gas industry and the renewables sector. 

Contributing to economic growth
The Met Office contributes to economic growth by helping businesses manage risks and opportunities, often by working in partnership. The Met Office works across a range of sectors, from helping major retailers keep the shelves stocked with the right products to helping insurance companies balance risks across their portfolios. 

For me, the floods of Winter 2013/14 highlighted how important Met Office services are for saving lives and property. From my experience in the forces, I was aware of the role the Met Office plays in public safety and I know how vital it is. I really take pride in that aspect of my role and that of the Met Office as an organisation.

While working at the Met Office, I have gained an appreciation of how many areas are impacted by weather and climate. I am now EA for the new Chief Executive, Rob Varley, who was previously the Met Office’s Operations and Services Director. The variety of people that Rob meets and talks to in one day is staggering – which means no two days are the same for me. Today for example, I was talking to someone from the Civil Aviation Authority, then a Government Minister’s office, then the Finnish Meteorological Service and then organising a meeting in Scotland with Scottish Power 

I have nothing but admiration for Rob, and the other Directors, for how they switch between meetings with such a diverse range of clients. They also have a passion and enthusiasm which is infectious and cascades right through the Met Office.

“I consider it a privilege to work here and do my job.” Kate Stoakes, Executive Assistant to the Met Office Chief Executive 

Another important realisation for me was that the Met Office it is not just about weather forecasts, it is also home to the Met Office Hadley Centre – a world renowned climate research centre. Met Office climate science provides the capabilities to meet the requirements of many customers from government and business – often underpinning mitigation and adaptation policy and decision making. 

National and global perspective
It’s essential to have a national and global perspective when working at the Met Office. Weather is a global system and responding to climate change needs international collaboration. The Met Office often brings together skills and expertise from a range of disciplines and perspectives, working with partners both in the UK and around the world in collaboration and knowledge sharing. 

For example, the recently opened Space Weather Operations Centre at the Met Office headquarters in Exeter is a partnership with a range of expert collaborators. These include the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, British Geological Survey, British Antarctic Survey, Finnish Met Institute, UK Space Agency, South African Space Agency, Airbus and several universities. This work builds the knowledge and capability to forecast space weather for the UK.

Working in partnership
Another example of collaborative working on an international scale is our work with the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA). Typhoon Haiyan, which affected the Philippines in 2013, was one of the strongest ever recorded. Over 6,000 people died when winds reached 195mph and a storm surge topped 6m. This was despite the fact that global weather forecast models identified the likely track of the developing tropical cyclone as it developed into a typhoon over a week beforehand. 

Our collaboration has helped PAGASA improved its warnings and deliver a more consistent communication of dangerous weather conditions to the Philippine Government and population, ultimately helping to save lives. 

Rob’s just come back from an international trip to China, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, and the Philippines liaising with the meteorological services in each country. For me, talking to people from those countries is so interesting; I have to understand the cultural and time differences when making all of Rob’s arrangements, as well as what the weather will be like while he is there! 

Next, Rob is off to Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia, then Africa next year. It underlines just how important international collaboration is to the Met Office. In organising the travel and researching all the different countries and areas, it’s as if I’m going on a worldwide tour without actually travelling. I am now busy co-ordinating briefings and follow ups with Met Office regional managers.

A key part of my role is to know what is important to Rob so when for example I see conflicts in his inbox I can make decisions and prioritise on his behalf, making judgement calls regularly. It’s all about the relationship between two people and understanding people’s working styles. We are certainly still building the relationship and it’s my job to act as Rob’s gatekeeper to filter out what isn’t necessary so he can focus on what’s really important. Whatever the customer; defence, health, aviation or the media, government or commercial, I consider it a real privilege to work here and do my job.

Article by Kate Stoakes

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