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What it’s really like to name storms for a living

Posted by
Emily Reynolds
Published

“If you name a storm, within an hour it’s going to be the top trending news item in the country.”

Laura Paterson, 31, is the chief meteorologist at the Met Office, the first woman in the role. She lives in Exeter with her boyfriend.

My alarm goes off…

It depends, but when I’m on a day shift I get up at about 5.40am for a 6.30am start. I drive to work, usually just having a coffee and some fruit at my desk because it’s so early. If I’m doing a night shift, I start at 6.30pm in the evening, so I get up much later on those days.

I’m responsible for…

Issuing severe national weather warnings and leading all Met Office meteorologists in the application of weather science. There are anywhere between 20 and 50 meteorologists working at any one time at the Met Office, and my job is to lead all of them in providing accurate weather forecasts. It can be really high pressure when the weather is severe, and you know that if you name a storm, within an hour it’s going to be the top trending news item in the country. There’s also an inevitable uncertainty in weather forecasting, so it’s all about making judgements about the most appropriate message to get out to the public.

I got my job… 

After studying physics and meteorology at Edinburgh University. I didn’t realise what it was that I really wanted to do, so I almost just fell into it. Once I did join the Met Office, though, there was so much training I could do, and I realised the huge opportunities I had working there. Once I realised how exciting it was, I took every opportunity I could get.

Data from meteorological equipment is used to inform weather forecasts 

My typical day…

Starts with checking weather observations and worldwide meteorological data. I then assimilate it all and brief the other meteorologists, scientists and our press office. If required, I have to decide whether or not to issue a severe weather warning or if I need to name a storm – basically deciding what the most severe or impactful issues are. Then I spend the afternoon in meetings about service development, working with scientists to improve our services.

My most memorable work moment…

Was flying over the ice fields of Antarctica, trying to familiarise myself with the lay of the land to help inform my forecasting there. Or perhaps working for the World Meteorological Organisation at the UN Headquarters in New York, advising the UN secretary general on how meteorological information can help countries in the Caribbean to prepare for hurricane season.

Part of her job at the Met Office is to give storms their names 

The worst part of my job…

Is that the weather doesn’t stop, so I have to work unsociable shifts – which can include Friday nights and Christmas Day.

The best part of my job…

Is when things are severe. That’s when you feel like you’re really having an impact and making a difference. My job is also so varied; the weather touches all aspects of life. I’ve spent time at military bases, in aviation at public airports, with supermarkets advising on weather trends, with gritters for the winter, and I spent five months in Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey.

After work…

I work 12-hour shifts, so by the time I get home I’m pretty exhausted. I don’t really like to sit in front of the TV, so I tend to go for long walks with my boyfriend. It helps us clear our heads.

Images: Neil White

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Emily Reynolds

Emily Reynolds is a journalist and author based in London. Her first book, A Beginner’s Guide to Losing Your Mind, came out in February 2017 with Hodder & Stoughton. She is currently working on her second.  

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