Phase 1 complete!

After just 10 weeks, the 3656 Operation Weather Rescue volunteers have completed the transcription of all the hourly rainfall, temperature and pressure data taken on Ben Nevis and in Fort William between 1883 and 1904!

There was skepticism from many about whether this citizen science approach to rescuing historical weather data would work.

It has. And, it has far exceeded our expectations.

The amazing volunteers have given their time and made a real difference to our understanding of past weather and climate. Thank you. Continue reading


41311 days

41311 days have elapsed since the Ben Nevis weather observatory shut at the end of September 1904.

And now there is a weather station at the summit again!

BBC article:

Listen to BBC radio piece:

Short video and photos taken by mountain guide Ron Walker of the weather station installation

Lots more pictures & longer video, including the ruins of the old observatory:

STV article:

February 1903 – the Ulysses storm

In late February 1903, a large storm came across Ireland and Scotland. It is believed to have inspired a small passage in the novel Ulysses by James Joyce:

O yes, J.J. O’Molloy said eagerly. Lady Dudley was walking home through the park to see all the trees that were blown down by that cyclone last year and thought she’d buy a view of Dublin.

The storm caused structural damage to many regions, and uprooted trees.

Our current best view of the storm comes from the 20th Century Reanalysis – this is essentially a modern weather forecast model used to simulate past weather by filling in the gaps between the fairly limited observations available. Continue reading

Using the rescued weather data

Once we’ve rescued all the weather observations, what are we going to do with them?

The first step will be to publish the data as an academic paper. We will choose an open access journal such as Earth System Science Data or Scientific Data. As well as the pressure, temperatures, rainfall and wind observations, we will also produce estimates of the humidity, derived from the pressure and temperature observations.

We would welcome suggestions on how we might best acknowledge the contributions of all our volunteers in this publication.

Once the data is published we will send copies to the various international weather data archives such as ISPD (pressure), GHCN (rainfall, temperature), ISTI (temperature) and a new European initiative which is collecting all meteorological data. The UK Met Office will also put the data into its MIDAS data archive.

This will ensure the data is available as widely as possible for anyone to analyse and use. For example, the data will be incorporated into the next generation of UK climate observations (called UKCP18), the Berkeley Earth global temperature datasets, and the Twentieth Century Reanalysis.

These are important steps to ensure the data can be used in the bigger picture of understanding how the UK and global climate has changed. Similar ‘data rescue’ activities are happening all over the world and continually adding to our knowledge of past weather. We firmly believe that better understanding of how the weather has already changed can better inform how it might change further in future.

With the funding that we have available we will focus on how extreme weather in western Scotland has changed between the time the observations were taken and now, particularly heavy rainfall. We will also use the data to better understand mountain meteorology, and especially atmospheric inversions (when the summits are warmer than lower levels).

In a separate project we are also trawling the detailed notes that accompany the weather observations to learn about the aurorae that were visible from the summit. Our space weather partners will be using these observations to better understand variations in the sun’s output.

But, there are also likely to be unexpected findings that we cannot anticipate. If anyone has any suggestions for analysis, we would love to discuss these. This is your project too!

And, if you’re anywhere near Edinburgh from 17th-19th November, come along to the free NERC UnEarthed showcase at Dynamic Earth, where we will have an exhibit.

Cloudy inspiration

Although we are focussed on rescuing the weather data taken by the meteorologists, the observatory at the summit of Ben Nevis is also famous for providing the inspiration for C.T.R. Wilson to invent the cloud chamber.

This invention, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1927, was used to track particles as they passed through super-saturated air. The cloud chamber was later used to make other Nobel Prize winning discoveries of new fundamental particles such as the positron. Continue reading

Weathermen of Ben Nevis

For twenty years between 1883 and 1904, three intrepid meteorologists lived at the top of Ben Nevis – the highest mountain in the UK – experiencing some of the worst weather the country has to offer.

Every hour, day and night, winter and summer, and whatever the weather, one of them would step outside and check the meteorological instruments, diligently recording the observations.

This was a uniquely Victorian-era endeavour. Science for the sake of science. Rather than exploring the world’s polar regions like some of their contemporaries, these Weathermen of Ben Nevis were exploring the atmosphere.

There was simply no other way of learning in detail about how the atmosphere changed with height without living at the top of a mountain. So that is what they did.

Continue reading