Something often unique to meteorologists is our ability to pinpoint the moment in our lives when we were captivated by the weather.
I’ve been interested in weather since 2002, when I was 6 years old. My hometown of Harrogate, North Yorkshire is a few miles east of the Washburn Valley reservoirs (Lindley Wood, Swinsty, Fewston and Thruscross). When I was growing up, they were a place my family often visited on a weekend, and one day my Mum noticed that Thruscross Reservoir was to be featured in an episode of Wild Weather, a BBC series presented by Donal McIntyre about weather extremes. Given how much I loved the reservoirs, we tuned in to watch Donal get pummelled by water from Thruscross in order to demonstrate the sheer power of water in the context of flash-flooding.
I was hooked, and watched the rest of the series multiple times, discovering more and more about the atmosphere. I was particularly inspired by the global scale…jet streams guiding weather systems for thousands of miles, something which has stayed with me ever since. I always remember that this series was where I first learned of the oceanic ‘thermohaline conveyor’. The fact that weather and reservoirs combined to spike my interest is no coincidence, as I always wanted to see the reservoirs overflowing or at very low levels…so rainfall surplus or deficits had always been on my mind. Perhaps the only other thing aside from weather in which I’m known to have an excitable interest is dams!
That was the first aspect of my life which pushed me towards meteorology.
But the other aspect is that I grew up into a world of weather extremes, particularly in the UK but also on a global scale, thanks (in part) to climate change. I remember the headlines in the summer of 2003 as the UK and Europe baked in a record-breaking heatwave (the one and only time the UK has surpassed 100°F). 2004 was memorable for the Boscastle flash flood in August, but I also remember being captivated by the frequent (at the time, record-breaking) tropical cyclone landfalls on the US.
I spent the summer (and autumn) of 2005 tracking the Atlantic tropical cyclones, which turned out to be memorable for many record-breaking reasons. I remember having no Internet access on the day Katrina made landfall and being heart-broken I wasn’t able to follow what was clearly an unfolding disaster. I remember the moment the NHC issued the advisory showing Wilma as the most intense on record. I have the list of names for that season committed to memory. I just fell in love with it.
By this point I’d become known amongst friends as a weather obsessive, but still the inspiration from the meteorological world around me kept coming. In July 2006, Britain experienced its hottest month on record, and then in September a weak tornado struck Harrogate and nearby Leeds which was a tremendous experience that I reported to TORRO with observations from my sister, who at the time worked in the tallest building in Harrogate and watched the event unfold.
Then followed the 2007 wet summer in the UK (which lead to the partial failure of the Ulley Reservoir in South Yorkshire…very exciting!), the failed “BBQ summer” of 2009, the 2009-10 cold winter, the record-breaking cold of December 2010, the record-breaking wet summer of 2012…and so on. These extremes and others helped commit my interest and also spurred my interest in the jet stream, which will be the focus of my final year research project at the University of Reading.
I can’t imagine my life without an interest in the atmosphere; I often find it hard to think how one couldn’t be interested in trying to understand the chaos above our heads. With climate change a serious issue for everyone, it’s my hope that everyone will gain a little more understanding about the power and beauty of the skies.