IT’S all change on the weather front for the Met Office.
It has moved from the first floor of the old air control tower at Ronaldsway to Viscount House, next to the terminal building after 65 years.
More than one million hourly observations have been made at the airport since the Met Office moved in to the control tower in May 1946.
The Met Office, staffed 24 hours a day, is now one of only two in the British Isles – along with Jersey – to be attached to an airport, with operations elsewhere having been centralised to a headquarters at Exeter.
Gary Salisbury, who has been a Met Office observer for 20 years, said: ‘With the old air traffic control tower rapidly deteriorating, operations have moved from what has been their home since just after World War II.
‘The weathermen in those days were under the UK Air Ministry, and they needed to be hardy types.
‘With electrical thermometers and cloud-base recorders not to come into use until 1972, observers would have to go out to the instrument enclosure on the airfield every hour, around the clock, to take readings.
‘Of course, the worse the conditions, the more important it was to go out and measure them! Indoors was not much better, as there was no heating in the control tower building.’
He said in 1964 the Met Office started to take on more of an ‘Isle of Man Weather Centre’ role, in addition to its aviation duties, issuing forecasts to Manx Radio.
The following year, the Isle of Man Airports Board took over from the Air Ministry, and staff became Manx civil servants, and soon started providing warnings to the then Highway Board and other agencies.
Mr Salisbury said: ‘Satellite, radar and computer technology revolutionised forecasting in the 1980s and 1990s, with a huge leap in the confidence of predictions, and in 2007 Ronaldsway forecaster Brian Rae was awarded an MBE.’
Forecaster Adrian Cowin, who has worked at the Met Office for 28 years, said it was estimated in 1983 that forecasts were between 65 and 70 per cent accurate.
The latest statistics show forecasts are 85 per cent accurate.
The Met Office is now linked to the UK Met Office information system, and has access to their model data, to be interpreted locally by the duty forecaster.
At the Met Office, there are both forecasters – predicting future weather patterns – and observers – monitoring the current situation.
There are a range of instruments – measuring factors such as wind speed/direction, temperature, humidity and pressure – on the airfield.
And the Met Office monitors conditions – using automatic weather stations – around the island, such as on the Mountain Road, and at all harbours.
Mr Salisbury said: ‘Met services are now more accessible than ever, with over 100,000 telephone enquiries annually handled by the three phone line services, and up to 70,000 visits per month to www.gov.im/infocentre/weather.aspx
‘Unlike the UK, any member of the public can call and speak to a forecaster direct, and pilots flying from Ronaldsway can get a face-to-face Met briefing from the forecaster.
‘Forecasts and weather data services are provided to many customers in areas such as shipping, agriculture and construction.
‘By providing advance warnings of severe weather and tidal flooding to agencies such as the DoI and emergency services, they can have staff and resources on hand, ready to deal with issues as they happen, which reduces disruption for us all and gets the island moving again as quickly as possible.’
The move means there is more space – and it is more accessible to the public.
‘We have records going back to 1947,’ he said.
‘If anyone wants to come in and view these they are here and accessible whereas previously if anyone wanted to come and see us, not just the public but pilots, it was tricky to get in.
‘You have to go through security as if you are getting on a plane, but here we are land side.’