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‘Bang up to date’ observatory now open

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott, the Met Office's chief government adviser for Scotland and Northern Ireland, Alex Hill, and radiosonde operator Owen Barton monitoring the data transmitted from the weather balloon launched earlier in the day - Photo: Hans J Marter/ShetNews

THE MET OFFICE has just completed a £1.2 million upgrade of its northernmost observatory, in Shetland.

The facility, on the outskirts of Lerwick, is one in only three manned specialist observatories in the UK.

The importance of the station for accurate UK wide weather forecasts was highlighted during the official opening on Tuesday morning.

Alex Hill, the Met Office’s chief government adviser for Scotland and Northern Ireland said Lerwick not only played a crucial role in getting accurate forecasts during one of the wettest winters on record, but also during the volcanic ash cloud in 2011.

“Meteorology is an international endeavour,” Hill said. “Places like this are extremely important. The data from here travels all across the world.

The weather balloon was launched with the help of Sound Primary School pupils - Photo: Austin Taylor

“If I was sitting in Antarctica I can get an observation from Lerwick. And that is when it becomes important, when you realize you got that interchange of knowledge and understanding.”

In the absence of Rob Varley, the Met Office’s director of operations, whose plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Kirkwall earlier in the day, Hill carried out the official opening with the help of four pupils from nearby Sound Primary School.

Asked if the recent storms and floods that have brought so much misery to families across the UK were the sign of things to come, Hill said that climate change was undoubtedly happening.

“Taking one particular event like this winter and saying that’s climate change is an extremely difficult thing to say.

“We are a relatively small island so it is difficult to pin it down exactly. What I would say from that situation is: from what we understand of climate change, these are the kinds of episodes that are likely to become more frequent.

“So whether this particularly is directly attributed to climate change is difficult to say, but it gives us an indication of how climate change will change our weather,” he said.

Meanwhile, invited guests were shown round the new facility and witnessed the launch of a radiosonde, better known as a weather observation balloon.

The new £1.2million Lerwick observatory - Photo: Austin Taylor

The seven-strong team provides a round the clock service carrying out hourly synoptical meteorological observations, remotely monitoring another 150 automated observation sites across the UK and helping to detect thunderstorms, as well as measure solar radiation and monitor the ozone layer.

Assistant manager Norrie Lyall said moving into new premises from the old station, locally known as ‘Da Wireless’, had made a huge difference.

“This brings the working environment bang up to date. The old building that we were in was falling apart. Too much money was spent just maintaining the structure.

“So we reached a point where the Met Office felt that it would be more cost effective to start on a brand new building.”