The increase in the accuracy of weather forecasting over recent decades has been remarkable. This is thanks to a concerted research effort devoted to better understanding of the atmosphere and to building this insight into computer prediction models. To ensure continuing progress, Met Eireann is engaged in research and development in atmospheric science, and has an ambitious programme to introduce technological aids of ever-increasing complexity and sophistication.
Met Eireann carries out a comprehensive observational programme to continually monitor the atmosphere. In addition to the standard meteorological variables - pressure, temperature, winds, rainfall, etc. - we monitor a range of chemical species such as ozone. The observations are collected in a climatological data base which is then available for research and analysis.
The production of a modern weather forecast involves an impressive array of high-tech equipment. Advanced sensors are required to observe the atmosphere, elaborate communications equipment is needed to transmit the information and powerful computers are necessary to perform the massive calculations involved in a numerical weather prediction.
The accompaning articles desciribe some of the ongoing scientific and technological work. The international research experiment FASTEX, devoted to the study of mid-latitude depressions, is recalled. The new wave forecasting model, WAM, for predicting sea-waves, is reviewed. Finally, the doppler weather radar, which was recently installed in Shannon Airport, is described and some sample output presented.
The most ambitious and exciting meteorological event ever to occur in Ireland took place earlier this year. FASTEX stands for Fronts and Atlantic Storm Tracks Experiment. This large-scale experiment focused on studying the frontal depressions which dominate our weather. It would be difficult to imagine an experiment more relevant to forecasting in Ireland.
At the operational Headquarters for FASTEX, in Shannon Airport, over fifty scientists were busy through January and February, planning and coordinating activities. They came from several meteorological centres in Europe and America.
FASTEX was Big!
Six research aircraft, four ships and a host of other specialised observing platforms were involved in a comprehensive observational programme. No bigger scientific experiment has been known in Ireland. No other meteorological experiment in Europe has had such resources. The European Union provided substantial funding for the project. Major American involvement enabled us to observe the whole North Atlantic area and to study the entire life-cycle of frontal depressions.
During interesting weather periods, activities were stepped up several notches: Intrepid aviators took off for regions of turbulent weather which most saner pilots would strive to avoid. Reaching an active cold front, they would fly through it several times in a lawn-mower pattern, launching dropsondes and collecting data on doppler radar.
Activities at Valentia Observatory were intensified during the two months: its geographical position made it crucial to the operations of FASTEX. The data collected is being assembled into a comprehensive data-base, available to scientists through the World-Wide Web.
So, what have we gained?
The analysis of the FASTEX data will keep research meteorologists busy for several years. It is too early to estimate the scientific impact of FASTEX. But the observational phase was a resounding success. We can be optimistic that all this will lead ultimately to greater understanding of frontal storms and therefore greater ability to forecast them.