Meteorology in society and practical developments


  • Based on the Royal Meteorological Society Symons Lecture, May 2006.


The intellectual and cultural dimensions of the science of meteorology and its applications are now widely appreciated. The revolutions in worldwide media and communication technology enable the public and decision-makers to be much better informed about the present and future state of weather, environment and climate, and their practical implications. Non-specialists can now understand and engage in debating some of the main scientific questions facing meteorologists. The institutional and political issues associated with these developments are discussed, particularly the organizational arrangements for the measurement, forecasting, exchange of data and public communication. The effectiveness and functioning of national meteorological services (NMS) and international organizations involved in meteorology depend on their financing and governance, and also their policies for the exchange of data. These factors also affect how they collaborate with other public and private organizations, especially those in related sciences and technologies. Advances in science and computing are progressively improving the accuracy and reliability of weather forecasting and climate predictions, including estimates of their intrinsic limitations. The Internet, which is providing a greater variety of meteorological data to members of the public, also enables them to contribute, not only as voluntary observers and in assisting with warnings of extreme events, but even in participating in computer experiments about climate predictions. The public as well as weather professionals now also provide valuable feedback to forecasting organizations. The role of meteorology becomes even more central to societies as they prepare for the dangers associated with significant changes in climate and environment caused by human activities. Policies to reduce these dangers have to be based on predicting future climate trends, taking into account how societies will respond to these dangers over periods of decades and centuries. There are doubts as to whether emissions of greenhouse gases will be reduced soon enough to avoid critical changes to the environment; failing that, what local and/or global measures might be taken to moderate climate change artificially? Suggestions are made about a better understanding between meteorology, government and society to deal with such issues. Copyright © 2012 Royal Meteorological Society