Trial runs and games
This week we’ve got two groups of local students visiting to ‘test’ our exhibit (well, the bits of it which have been finished!). One group came yesterday morning and we have another visit this afternoon. We showed some of them the things we’re presenting and had some good chats about their thoughts on storms and volcanoes. I managed to convince one of my colleagues to demonstrate the special lightning survival pose which was not only a useful tip for the visitors but also pretty funny. If you come along to the exhibition it could be your challenge to make someone show you it.
The picture is a game which Graeme devised for the students, where they had to try to guess the number of lightning strokes in the image. These storms all happened last Friday afternoon and Graeme gave the clue that the answer fell between 1000 and 2000… any guesses?
Adam managed to get 35 beautiful flyers from the Royal Society, promoting the exhibition, and then got permission to put them in the Met Office coffee shop. It gets very busy in there because our offices are open plan, so if you need to discuss something it’s a good place to go to avoid disturbing your colleagues. Well, that’s my excuse… obviously it has nothing to do with the cakes. Anyway, Adam sent me the photo first thing this morning so hopefully by the end of today we’ll have attracted even more visitors to the exhibition.
In other news, despite the ‘help’ from Chloe the cat, the roster still hasn’t been finalised. I think I shouldn’t have created the version called roster_final, it was asking for trouble!
Melanie (photo taken by Adam)
Other uses of ATDnet data - helicopters
Our exhibit relates partly to the use of our lightning detection network (ATDnet) to detect volcanic lightning. However, it is of course able to detect lightning from storms and is an operational system used by an incredibly wide variety of people. I’m always pleased to hear of people using ATDnet data for their research and was excited to find out that one of my Met Office colleagues, Jonathan Wilkinson, has been using ATDnet records of lightning strokes to verify reports of helicopter triggered lightning.
Jonathan and his team have found a number of helicopters which have reported lightning over the North Sea in the winter (October-April) where it was not expected or otherwise observed. It is thought that the presence of the helicopter itself can trigger the strike. These lightning strikes have safety and financial implications. Radar and ATDnet data have been used along with other information to produce an improved algorithm to model these conditions, to better predict when and where these lightning strikes might occur.
For more details, the findings have been documented in a paper:
Wilkinson, J. M., Wells, H., Field, P. R. and Agnew, P. (2012), Investigation and prediction of helicopter-triggered lightning over the North Sea. Met. Apps. doi: 10.1002/met.1314
I feel like I have spent the past few weeks battling against the ever-changing monstrosity that is our roster for the Summer Science Exhibition. Who would have thought it could be so hard to co-ordinate 12 people for 9 days?! Luckily I’ve had a hefty amount of help this week from one of my colleagues, Sasha. And today I’m working from home so I can ask my cat Chloe for help. She’s not very good at logistics or organising things but she does have nice soft fur. Hopefully over the bank holiday weekend the roster will stop changing and I will be able to print off a final copy. I’ll probably be so excited that I’ll want to frame it.
Adam’s Greased Lightning Anecdote
On the way back from my Easter holiday on a paradise island in the Indian Ocean, I couldn’t have felt more relaxed and revived – apart from the impending realisation that my holiday was over and the realities of the working week were almost upon me again (along with planning the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition!). That was until the final ten minutes of my flight on the final approach to London Heathrow.
I’d left England the week before in the winter sunshine with a few wisps of stratus and some puffs of fair weather cumulus cloud to note, the infamous British weather was benign, even pleasant. On my return however, it was a different story. The immediate passing of a cold front across the UK had introduced an unstable airmass across the south of the UK allowing warmer, moister air parcels to move (convect) upwards. As these air parcels cool and condense, they form cumulonimbus clouds that can reach heights of over 20 km - resulting in thunderstorms with associated heavy rain, hail, thunder and lightning.
Moments after the undercarriage of the Airbus A330 went down for landing, there was a blinding white flash from the windows, a noise akin to a loud explosion and a comprehensive thud was immediately felt through the entire cabin. The cabin then went deathly silent. Each passenger was unaware of what had just happened but seemed to grasp the gravity of the situation and was thinking the worst. A few seconds of thought passed and I convinced myself that the uncomfortable experience was the plane being struck by lightning. A couple of nervous minutes passed and we landed safely at Heathrow with the captain immediately announcing after touchdown that we had indeed been struck! Thankfully the aeroplane fuselage acts as a Faraday cage, conducting the electrical charge around the structure of the plane, keeping the occupants within the cabin completely safe – if not a little shaken!
On my return to the Met Office, it was an excellent opportunity to verify our ATDnet lightning location system. The strike on my plane was a few minutes before landing at Heathrow into a westerly wind so we landed from a due easterly direction, approaching over central London. ATDnet located multiple lightning strikes on the afternoon of the 10th April (each cross on the map is a lightning strike) with the cluster of 3 purple crosses due east of Heathrow (black triangle) highly likely to be the moment my plane was hit!
Adam Curtis - Met Office Observations R&D
Mine and Mel’s view after the excellent Communications Training Day at the Royal Society - unfortunately there were no clouds to spot!