Meteorological Office Archive

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This material is held atNational Meteorological Archive
Reference Number(s)GB 261 National Meteorological Archive
Dates of CreationMid-Nineteenth century - 2010
Name of CreatorMeteorological Office
Language of Material English Multiple languages
Physical Description Around 500,000 meteorological records stored across four large, environmentally controlled strongrooms

Scope and Content

The National Meteorological Archive is the official UK Place of Deposit for meteorological records. It is one of the many services provided by the Met Office.

Records for England and Wales are held in our Exeter based repository; records for Scotland are stored in Edinburgh; and records for Northern Ireland are kept in Belfast. We also have records for overseas stations and hold the historic collections of the Royal Meteorological Society.

The National Meteorological Archive is therefore home to one of the most comprehensive collections on meteorology anywhere in the world and provides a major resource for scientific and historical research of international scope.

Our aim is to support the Met Office and the wider scientific community by providing a targeted, proactive and flexible information service; our primary role is to preserve the public memory of the weather and to conserve the records in our care.

Administrative / Biographical History

As a result of the Brussels Conference of Maritime Nations in 1853 and following consultations by the Board of Trade with the Royal Society, a Meteorological Department was formed at the beginning of August 1854 for the collection and co-ordination of meteorological observations made at sea.

Its first Superintendent, Admiral Robert Fitzroy, extended the functions of the department by initiating regular weather reports from a network of land stations, employing for the purpose the recently invented electric telegraph. Fitzroy issued storm warnings to certain ports for the benefit of seamen and also began the practice of weather ''forecasting''.

Following the premature death of Fitzroy and on the recommendation of the Galton Report, in 1867 the name of the department was changed to the Meteorological Office and placed under the administrative control of a Meteorological Committee of the Royal Society.

In 1877, following a review of these arrangements, the committee was replaced by a paid council of six members, of whom the Hydrographer of the Navy was one and the remaining five were nominated by the Royal Society. R H Scott, who had been the director of the office since 1867, became Secretary of the Meteorological Council, while retaining informal administrative control.

In 1905, following the recommendations of another Treasury committee, the office was placed under the management of a reconstituted Meteorological Committee, consisting of the director as chairman, the hydrographer, two members appointed by the Royal Society, and one each appointed by the Board of Trade, the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Treasury. This committee was responsible for administering the Treasury grant in aid, but the director was responsible for the day-to-day administration of the office.

During this period the Meteorological Office developed steadily and by 1914 it was organised into separate divisions including: Marine, Forecast and Storm Warning; Statistics and Library; Observing, Instruments; Correspondence and Accounts. In 1910 it took over from the National Physical Laboratory administration of Kew Observatory.

During the First World War three other meteorological services were developed: that of the Air Ministry, responsible for the supply of information for airships; that of the Admiralty, developed to meet the needs of the Royal Navy; and the Meteorological Section of the Royal Engineers, formed to meet the requirements of aircraft and gas warfare in France. The unco-ordinated development of these four services resulted in serious duplication and overlapping, and by 1922, following the recommendations of a sub-committee of the Research Committee of the Cabinet, the three younger services were absorbed into the Meteorological Office, which was to become a 'central State Meteorological Service'.

The reconstituted office was attached originally to the Civil Aviation Department of the Air Ministry, the director being appointed by the Air Council. The sub-committee's recommendation that there should be a 'board of management' for the office was met by a reorganised Meteorological Committee, representative of all departmental and scientific interests concerned, to which all important policy questions affecting the office and all appointments to higher posts on its staff were referred for advice. In 1927 the office's responsibility for research into atmospheric pollution was transferred to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. Meanwhile, the development of the Fleet Air Arm resulted in the Navy establishing its own meteorological service in ships carrying aircraft. In 1937, to overcome the organisational anomalies which were becoming apparent, it was decided to transfer the administrative functions of the Naval Division of the Meteorological Office to the Admiralty's Hydrographic Department.

In 1990 the Meteorological Office became an executive agency of the Ministry of Defence, the chief executive being responsible to the Secretary of State for Defence. In November 2000 the organisation underwent a corporate rebrand and officially changed its name to simply the ''Met Office''. On 18 July 2011 the Met Office moved to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), a move that recognises the Met Office's critical importance in supporting UK growth and also neatly re-establishes the earliest historic links with a predecessor of BIS, the Board of Trade, for whom the Meteorological Department provided services to the Shipping Industry in an effort to protect life and property.

Conditions Governing Access

Open, Public Records

Custodial History

As a result of a meeting of the Meteorological Committee on 29 April 1914, the Met Office first officially accepted responsibility for custodianship of appropriate public weather records. Between the end of the First World War and the 1950s the Met Office experienced considerable expansion. The various records it produced were stored in a haphazard manner at various locations in London, Dunstable and Harrow, with different divisions within the Office having responsibility for different records.

However, in 1955 the then Director General, Sir Graham Sutton, stated that Bracknell, with a population of no more than 25,000 people, would be an ideal location for the new centralised headquarters, and it was hoped that the Archive would also be brought under centralised control in one fixed location thereby making it easier for our customers.

The 1958 Public Record Act made the Lord Chancellor responsible for the selection and preservation of important records and in a letter dated 3 May 1962 he stated his willingness for the Met Office at Bracknell to be designated as the official national Place of Deposit for meteorological records.

In 1989, the decision was taken to relocate the Archive to a new site at the Stirling Centre in Bracknell and accordingly the National Meteorological Archive moved to its new home in October 1991.

Further, with the historic relocation of the Met Office to Exeter in 2003, the National Meteorological Archive followed some 18 months later and opened to the public at Great Moor House in March 2005.

Other Finding Aid

National Meteorological Archive catalogue

Subjects

Meteorology
Atmosphere
Climatology
Precipitation
Hydrometeorology
Climate
Weather

Corporate Names

Environment Agency
Royal Meteorological Society

Cataloguing Info

TitleMet Office
CreationCreated by Glyn Hughes using the cheshire for archives ead creation tool 2011-12-08

Climatological Returns

Reference Number(s)GB 261 National Meteorological Archive/1
Dates of Creation1870s-2010

Scope and Content

Most records typically include the following weather elements:

  • Air temperature at 1.25m above the ground
  • Air temperature over a grass surface or its artificial equivalent
  • Air temperature over a concrete surface
  • Soil temperature at 0.1m, 0.3m and 1.0m below the ground level
  • Relative humidity at 1.25m above the ground
  • Amount of rainfall
  • Depth of lying snow
  • Mean wind speed, mean wind direction and maximum gust at 10m above the ground
  • Atmospheris pressure at the station level and reduced to mean sea level
  • Surface barometric pressure
  • Visibility
  • Amount and type of cloud
  • Height of cloud base
  • Duration of sunshine
  • Descriptive weather diary

Administrative / Biographical History

Throughout the UK there is a network of official climate stations at which regular daily observations are made. These stations are on average located just 40 km apart from each other thus ensuring that the weather typically associated with low pressure and frontal systems are recorded. The numerous records produced by these station observations are stored here at the archive in paper format from the nineteenth century right up to 2010 for some sites and they offer a tremendous resource for research.


Synoptic Meteorological Charts

Reference Number(s)GB 261 National Meteorological Archive/2
Dates of CreationMay 1867 - August 2003

Scope and Content

We have a vast collection of weather charts ranging from those which focus on daily conditions directly over the British Isles to North Atlantic and southern hemisphere charts that show weather patterns over a large area. All these charts were drawn and plotted by forecasters during the normal course of business as new charts needed to be made for each set of new observations received. Quite often there were as many as four charts drawn per day. They run from May 1867 until August 2003, after which time charts are stored electronically and can be made available to customers on request.

Administrative / Biographical History

The first weather charts sought to depict the weather conditions around the British coastline. By 1861 Admiral Robert FitzRoy, the founder of the Met Office, had established a network of 15 coastal stations from which gale warnings could be provided. The development of the electric telegraph in the 1870s and the further expansion of the observational network enabled faster dissemination of warnings and meant more comprehensive synoptic analyses could be created and depicted in graphic form.

Between the end of the nineteenth century and the outbreak of the Second World War the Met Office expanded a great deal in terms of the breadth and scope of its activities and firmly established itself as one of the leading authorities on the weather in the world. Indeed, by this stage our forecasting played a vital role in the success of major military offensives, most famously during the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944. The actual D-Day synoptic chart is available to view here at the archive.

Today, synoptic charts are produced by computer covering the weather across the entire world, but in terms of style and content they remain essentially the same as the very earliest weather maps.


Daily Weather Reports

Reference Number(s)GB 261 National Meteorological Archive/3
Dates of Creation1860-present

Scope and Content

These consist of daily summaries of general weather conditions. We have a continuous series of them featuring the weather in Britain everyday since 1860 to the present, and have a good many featuring daily weather information from different parts of the world too.

The amount of information within these reports increased over time and later versions often include: simplified daily synoptic charts of Europe and the North Atlantic Ocean; a weather forecast for the next 24 hours; and a more detailed daily synoptic chart of the British Isles.

An offshoot of the daily weather report was the monthly and annual weather summaries, which began in 1884 and 1903 respectively. Though their content and layout has changed over the years both generally consist of standard weather elements outlined by text, tabulated data and climatological diagrams, and aim to give a general impression of the distribution of the weather across the UK.


Ship Meteorological Logs

Reference Number(s)GB 261 National Meteorological Archive/4
Dates of Creation1850s-present

Scope and Content

Our collection is composed of many thousands of worldwide records from Merchant and Royal Navy ships which typically date from the mid-nineteenth to the late twentieth century. We even hold logs made on board certain historic voyages such as HMS Beagle, on which Darwin once sailed with Captain FitzRoy to the Galapagos Islands in 1837; and HMS Erebus which undertook several daring voyages to the poles ultimately ending in tragedy as the ship became icebound in the Arctic.

Administrative / Biographical History

The weather has always played an important role in marine navigation, especially in the days of sailing ships. The sixteenth century saw a vast expansion in the number of long distance voyages to exotic lands and such epic voyages necessitated uniform procedures in weather observing practices, which accordingly generated many paper records.

By the late seventeenth century knowledge of weather at sea had advanced to such an extent that on the basis of that accumulated knowledge the English mathematician and astronomer Edmund Halley was able to produce one of the most valuable contributions to the newly emerging science of meteorology, namely the effect of ocean currents on global trade winds.

Ships meteorological logs performed a vital role in early twentieth century forecasting. In 1907 an arrangement was made between the Met Office and the Admiralty that all weather reports received from HM Ships when cruising in the Atlantic would be sent to the Met Office for the purposes of forecasting UK weather. This proved to be an epoch making decision in the history of synoptic meteorology for it ended the hitherto scarce amount of data available from the very area from which most UK weather originated. The advent of wireless telegraphy at this time also meant that observations of high accuracy could be taken and transmitted to London with immense speed.

This arrangement was still further cemented after the First World War and from that point onwards the Met Office was seldom without reliable reports from the Atlantic, which proved invaluable in the preparation of accurate daily forecasts. In recent years, these once working logs have provided a rich source of historical weather data for modern climate and oceanographic research.


Sunshine Cards

Reference Number(s)GB 261 National Meteorological Archive/5
Dates of Creationc.1880s-c.2000

Scope and Content

They can be used to help build a climate profile of an area and have also been used to provide information to the tourist industry.

Administrative / Biographical History

For a great many years the instrument for measuring sunshine duration was the Campbell-Stokes sunshine recorder. The original instrument (heliometer) was invented by John Francis Campbell in 1853, but the later card-holding version was developed by Sir George Stokes in 1879.

A glass sphere focuses sunlight on a graduated card and the length of the burn trace on the card corresponds to the duration and intensity of sunshine at a given location.


Daily Registers

Reference Number(s)GB 261 National Meteorological Archive/6
Dates of Creation1920s-present

Scope and Content

These contain hourly weather observations made at continuously manned stations such as airfields, harbour authorities and coastguard stations. We have these for approximately 1,000 sites for the UK and overseas, from the 1920s to more recent times. They include observations of the following elements:

  • Temperature
  • Wind speed and direction
  • Visibility
  • Cloud amount and type
  • Pressure and dew point
  • Precipitation
  • Sunshine

The amount and frequency of the recorded data makes them a rich source of information for people who need the weather conditions at specific places and for very specific times. For example, they can prove particularly useful when investigating plane crashes during the Second World War.


Private Weather Diaries

Reference Number(s)GB 261 National Meteorological Archive/7
Dates of Creation1730-1990s

Scope and Content

For weather data which predates the founding of the Met Office in 1854 researchers can make use of our collection of weather diaries compiled by private individuals who had a keen interest in the weather in their locality.

Though the geographical coverage can be uneven and the variety and quality of elements observed differs widely, many were composed by brilliant men of science who became key individuals in the history of meteorology such as Luke Howard, who devised a method of classifying cloud types still used today, and Admiral Beaufort, in which he first wrote down his scale for estimating the force of the wind and his shorthand notation for describing general weather conditions. A version of the Beaufort wind scale is still used today in the shipping forecast on BBC radio.

The earliest diaries we have date from the eighteenth century and are mostly UK based, but we do have occasional overseas diaries some of which have recently provided valuable weather data for parts of the world that we would not otherwise have data for and have therefore been useful when constructing computer models essential for understanding and predicting future extreme weather events such as El Nino and La Nina.

Regardless of their association with famous individuals and apart from the data they contain, these diaries also possess an intrinsic value as historic artefacts by virtue of their antiquity and uniqueness.

Acquisition Information

Some of these records are owned by Royal Meteorological Society and others are donations from members of the public

Location of Originals

Please note that we also store facsimilie copies of weather diaries, the originals of which are held in numerous locations, including the Bodleian Library and the British Library.


Rainfall Cards

Reference Number(s)GB 261 National Meteorological Archive/8
Dates of Creation1860s-2010

Scope and Content

Our earliest rainfall records date from the 1860s and the values were generally produced on annual sheets until 1963 after which time monthly cards were used.

Measurements of rainfall amount often vary greatly from location to location because of the variable nature of rain producing weather systems and their interaction with high ground. For this reason a high density network of rain gauges is required to define accurately the rainfall climatology of the UK and to identify where flooding events are likely to occur as a result of local heavy storms. Consequently, in the archive, we have a great many rainfall cards usually consisting daily, weekly and monthly totals sourced from both professional and amateur stations throughout the UK.

Observers typically used a traditional 5 inch rain gauge which had a sharp brass or steel rim of diameter 5 inches (127 mm), sited 30 cm above ground level with a funnel that collects rain in a narrow necked bottle placed in a removable can.

Administrative / Biographical History

Originally founded in 1860 by George James Symons, the British Rainfall Organization (BRO) coordinated a network of rainfall stations around the country and published the results in the British Rainfall Magazine, a complete set of which is available to view here in the archive. The original paper forms written by the observers each day as they inspected their rain gauges are also stored here in the archive.

The BRO transferred to the Meteorological Office in July 1919, who maintained and considerably extended the network over the next few years. Today, the responsibility for water management and flood forecasting lies with the Environment Agency in England and Wales and with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. Although both these organisations now operate and fund the dense network of rainfall stations, the rainfall cards themselves have continued to be stored here at the National Meteorological Archive on their behalf (intake will cease after 2010).


Ten Year Rainfall Books

Reference Number(s)GB 261 National Meteorological Archive/8/1
Dates of Creation1677-1990

Scope and Content

The Ten Year Rainfall Books can be used to provide additional data to that contained within the rainfall cards. These records consist of pre-printed, looseleaf forms with monthly and annual rainfall totals for 10 years at different stations copied into them. They are bound by county. For many old rainfall stations these sheets are the only record of available data.

Although the quality of very early data cannot be guaranteed, it appears as though every effort has been made to establish the accuracy of the data both by Craddock and the early Met Office employees.

Administrative / Biographical History

The forms were filled in by Met Office staff upon direct receipt of data from observing sites. This began sometime in the 1860s and continued routinely for many years thereafter.

The records have been checked and verified (and in some cases added to) at different times in their history, most notably in the 1970s by J.M. Craddock who worked for the Met Office at Dunstable during the War, but was eventually employed by the University of East Anglia (UEA) at the Climatic Research Unit. In this capacity, he oversaw the compilation of a series of monthly rainfall totals which were intended to facilitate comparisons between the climates of present and former times; this was in fullfilment of a contract UEA had with the National Environment Research Council for the production of long, homogenous rainfall records representing different districts of Britain. Craddock produced an index and corresponding data which are stored in the Archive.

For data that predates the founding of the Met Office, this has been obtained from a variety of sources including, Luke Howard 'Climate of London', the 'Gentleman's Magazine', numerous entries in the Philosophical Transactions, manuscripts held in the Royal Society Library (e.g. John Hooker for Tonbridge); and others gleaned by research undertaken by Craddock and also obtained from data communicated to him by Gordon Manley.


Station History files

Reference Number(s)GB 261 National Meteorological Archive/9
Dates of Creation1900-1990s

Scope and Content

These mainly consist of inspection reports from each climate station with details of instruments used and a diagrammatic representation of the observation site layout. They can also include maps of the exact station location, various administrative correspondences, and even occasional photographs. These files can be used if a station ever moved geographical position or changed its name at some time in its history.

They can also be helpful in explaining a set of anomalous data figures in our records, for example perhaps there was a problem with the site or the instrumentation type was changed at some point in its history, which would have been recorded in the official inspection report. So they can prove invaluable when determining the accuracy and validity of the data produced at a particular site.


Autographic Records

Reference Number(s)GB 261 National Meteorological Archive/10
Dates of Creationc.1900-2000

Scope and Content

We have a number of autographic records which were used to record:

  • Temperature (thermogram)
  • Rainfall intensity (hyetogram)
  • Air pressure (barogram)
  • Relative humidity (hygrogram)
  • Wind speed and direction (anemogram)

Administrative / Biographical History

Though the instruments used for creating these records did vary, they normally included a cylindrical drum on which was mounted graphic paper. The drum rotated slowly making a single revolution once per day, per week, or sometimes per month, and onto which the actual weather information is marked by continuous pen trace.

Nowadays, mechanical recording autographic instruments have been superseded by electronic weather instruments that use computer methods to record these separate weather elements. The digitally recorded data is sent to the Met Office automatically and then immediately fed into the sophisticated computer models.