275 - Come Rain or Shine

A crise do vulcão na Islândia trouxe novamente à tona o valor e o papel da meteorologia. Speak Up visitou o Met Office, centro meteorológico próximo a Londres, que cuida da previsão do tempo de meio mundo e faz parte do ministério de defesa inglês. É daqui que partem os dados para determinar se vôos serão ou não cancelados em toda a Europa.
by Julian Earwaker.

They say that the British love talking about the weather. For other nationalities this can be a banal and boring subject of conversation, something that people talk about when they have nothing else to say to each other. And yet the weather is a very important part of our lives. That at least is the opinion of Barry Gromett, press officer for The Met Office. This is located in Exeter, a pretty cathedral city in the southwest of England. Here employees – and computers – supply weather forecasts for much of the world:

Barry Gromett
(Standard English accent)

The weather and our atmosphere is extraordinarily powerful. The forces that go on within it are pretty unimaginable at times. You know, when you think of the severity of {yootooltip title=[ storms ]} storms - tempestades {/yootooltip} in the US, for instance, {yootooltip title=[thunderstorms]} thunderstorms - temporais {/yootooltip}, tornados, intense cold during the wintertime, extreme heat during the summertime. All of those things {yootooltip title=[have a real sort of bearing on how we go about our daily lives and our health]} have a real sort of bearing on how we go about our daily lives and our health - têm uma real influência em nossa vida cotidiana e em nossa saúde {/yootooltip}. So it is a matter of life and death, quite literally sometimes. And particularly {yootooltip title=[if you’re engaged in a livelihood such as fishing]} if you’re engaged in a livelihood such as fishing - se você se dedica a um meio de vida como a pesca {/yootooltip}, for instance, if you’re working on {yootooltip title=[ oil rigs ]} oil rigs - plataformas petrolíferas {/yootooltip} in the middle of the North Sea, for instance. Weather has a real impact on how you go about your daily lives and the actual safety of it.

And, as professional meteorologists, the staff at the Met Office are very aware that climate change really is taking place. And yet, as Barry Gromett says, whereas most members of the public accept today’s weather forecasts, they are sceptical about warnings for the future:

Barry Gromett:

We’re always talking about what is going to happen in 50 years’ time, 100 years’ time. Really, {yootooltip title=[it’s a question of trying to identify a relevance to everybody]} it’s a question of trying to identify a relevance to everybody - é uma questão de identificar o ponto relevante para todos {/yootooltip}, really. And a lot of it is really {yootooltip title=[quite scary stuff]} quite scary stuff - coisa bem apavorante {/yootooltip}. And, you know, it’s only natural, I think, for us {yootooltip title=[ to turn away from it ]} to turn away from it - dar as costas {/yootooltip} and ignore it. But I think the message is: “Ignore it at your peril!” Things are changing, we’ve seen it, we’ve detected it. We know pretty much certainly that it’s what we’re doing, so we really need to like sort of {yootooltip title=[bottom out the research involved in what may happen]} bottom out the research involved in what may happen - ir fundo na investigação sobre que coisas podem acontecer {/yootooltip}, what may not happen, provide the best evidence we can for people to make those decisions. It’s not something that we should turn away from at all.

It’s early morning and the sun is shining over Exeter in south-west England. People are walking and cycling to work. Most are wearing {yootooltip title=[lightweight clothing]} lightweight clothing - roupas leves {/yootooltip}. No one is carrying an umbrella. Some people {yootooltip title=[ have hung their washing outside ]} have hung their washing outside - estenderam suas roupas lavadas para secar {/yootooltip} to dry before leaving home. But how did they decide what to do and what to wear? The answer lies inside a hi-tech building on the {yootooltip title=[ outskirts ]} outskirts - periferia {/yootooltip} of the city, home to Britain’s leading {yootooltip title=[ weather forecasting ]} weather forecasting - previsão do tempo {/yootooltip} organisation: The Met Office.

At the heart of things is the operations centre: a large {yootooltip title=[ open-plan room ]} open-plan room - escritório sem divisórias {/yootooltip} full of technology and staffed {yootooltip title=[ 24/7 ]} 24/7 - 24 horas por dia, 7 dias por semana {/yootooltip} by the Met Office’s expert team of meteorologists. {yootooltip title=[ Banks of screens ]} banks of screens - painéis de telas {/yootooltip} display a constantly {yootooltip title=[ updated range ]} updated range - série atualizada {/yootooltip} of satellite images and weather maps as a {yootooltip title=[ stream ]} stream - fluxo {/yootooltip} of data flows between the Met Office and weather centres around the world. The room has the feel of a military command centre and this is no surprise: the Met Office is part of the Ministry of Defence.
During the World Wars, forecasting was central to the military effort and terms such as “cold front” and “warm front” were first introduced.

The weather is also a major factor in airline safety: the Met Office in Exeter is one of two World Area Forecast Centres covering all civil aviation flights over 24,000 feet (7,315 metres) globally. On a wider scale, the weather has a massive impact on worldwide energy and food production.

While the weather is a global phenomenon, Britain is definitely unique. “It’s a very hard place to forecast for, even in the short term,” explains Barry Gromett, the Met Office’s senior press officer. “The UK is mid-latitude, it’s sandwiched between Europe and the Atlantic Ocean and it’s like a {yootooltip title=[ crossroads ]} crossroads - ponto de cruzamento {/yootooltip} of different weather types. It is extraordinarily influenced by one or the other and those extremes are quite marked. So it is very, very {yootooltip title=[difficult to get right]} difficult to get right - difícil de prever corretamente {/yootooltip}.”

The Met Office’s accuracy has improved significantly in recent years. Its 24-hour forecasts are 90 per cent accurate and today’s four-day forecasts are as accurate as the one-day forecasts of 20 years ago. Much of this is thanks to new technology. Back in 1959, the Met Office’s first computer did 30,000 calculations a second. Today’s IBM supercomputer can carry out 1,000 billion calculations every second!
{yootooltip title=[ There is still room ]} there is still room - ainda há espaço {/yootooltip} for human interpretation of computer data and, of course, for error. Last year the Met Office made itself highly unpopular with the British public when it forecast a “barbecue summer” and a “mild winter.” What followed was a wet summer and one of the longest, coldest winters for many years!

{yoogallery src=[images/stories/galery/materias/ed275/] thumb=[polaroid] width=[70]}

Answer these questions after reading Come Rain or Shine.