Case study

Operational meteorologist — Joanna Maybourn

Joanna applied to the Met Office during the final year of her degree and now briefs squadrons at RAF College Cranwell

How did you get your job?

Having studied meteorology at university I always had an interest in the Met Office and so in my final year I began the application process for the next intake of trainee operational meteorologists.

This included completing an online form, attending an assessment day at Met Office HQ, which involved maths, physics and meteorology tests and then an interview and presentation.

Training begins with a six-month theory course at Met Office HQ in Exeter, followed by a six month period of on-the-job training, where you learn how to apply the theory, forecast for many different weather situations and give defence meteorology briefings.

Is it essential to have a degree?

Although my subject was very relevant to my job, you don't have to have a degree in meteorology. It has been immensely helpful though already having some background knowledge.

What are your day-to-day activities?

I'm based at the Met Office at RAF College Cranwell. We start at 5.30am in order to have the forecast prepared and all the products issued in time to begin briefing squadrons at 7.00am.

We brief five times in the morning and then the rest of the day is spent monitoring the weather, answering phone calls and in-office enquiries and updating the forecast if necessary. Sometimes, if crews are landing away we give them a more tailored briefing in the office and if there is night flying planned another briefing is normally given mid-afternoon.

Preparing the forecast involves analysis of computer models, empirical techniques and previous experience of similar weather situations.

Another important part of the job is observing the current weather. Observations are made routinely every hour and when the weather is changing through set criteria.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

Increasingly, my role is becoming more customer-orientated in order to help them make the most of the time they have available for training.

In terms of my own career, I'm looking forward to continuing to develop my forecasting skills and to take part in overseas placements and I am already planning a trip to the Falkland Islands.

There are many other parts of the Met Office which you can progress to, such as teaching in the Met Office college, moving to the business side, or working in scientific research.

What do you like about being a meteorologist?

I enjoy the variety as the weather is never the same day-to-day. There are always aspects to the weather that I haven't experienced before so it keeps it interesting.

I also enjoy the daily interaction with customers through briefings and enquiries. Many of the pilots are just starting out and are new to meteorology so it's good when you see them using what they have learned in ground school and understanding the weather story of the day.

What are the most challenging parts?

Although I enjoy the variety in the weather it can sometimes be very complicated, especially when facing a weather scenario that you haven't seen before, such as snow.

We also have to forecast to quite a high level of detail, which can be very difficult in a challenging situation.

Any advice for someone who wants to become a meteorologist?

You don't have to have a degree directly related to the subject, but it is very important to have a good interest in the weather, as our work day is very intensive and challenging.

You also have to enjoy working with customers because unless we can communicate the forecast, it isn't of any benefit to anyone.

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