Interview with Dr Emily Gleeson
Meteorologist, Research and Applications Division, Met Éireann
1. What were the highlights during your involvement with the Irish Met Society (IMS)?
There have been many highlights during my involvement with IMS but I’d like to mention two of these. Regarding events that we held, the highlight for me was undoubtedly our field trip to Valentia Observatory in October 2010 in which 300 people from all corners of Ireland participated. However, the overall highlight for me was getting to meet and interact with about 2500 people from all over Ireland (and further afield) who have an interest in meteorology.
2. Is there any one particular weather event you experienced that prompted your interest in meteorology?
Rare winter snowfalls and roars of thunder on late summer evenings.
3. What types of weather or weather phenomena are you most passionate about?
Question 2 gives a clue. Snow is definitely my favourite type of weather. Ideally it would be about -10 to -15 degrees, with powdery snow on the ground, snow hugging the branches of the trees and with wispy cirrus in an intense blue sky.
4. Out of 10, how would you rate your interest in all things weather?
5. Could you talk us through a typical day at work?
That’s a difficult question as I work in the Research and Applications Division in Met Éireann and hence every day is different as is the nature of research. My work involves running simulations (computer model experiments), analysing data, publishing results and interacting with collaborators around Europe.
6. The older generations used to forecast the weather by observing their surroundings and nature; do you think there is any accuracy to this method?
I don’t know any of the signs that they use so I’ve never tried this myself. Therefore, I could not rule it out especially as nature is very complex.
7. It is often said that if you do not like the weather in Ireland, wait five minutes; do you think there is much truth in this statement?
Yes that’s certainly true on many days. Ireland’s weather is dominated by the Atlantic and is thus very mobile. In winter, we often have frontal depressions followed by sunshine and showers. Showers of course are hit and miss and are usually quick to pass.
8. Can you tell us a little about your current/recent research in Climate Modelling and Numerical Weather Prediction?
Met Éireann is one of the institutes involved in the EC-Earth global climate model. We have delivered our simulations to CMIP5 for consideration for the next IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report. I am currently analysing the data and collaborating with institutes in Ireland and around Europe. On the Numerical Weather Prediction front, I’m involved in work on the radiation physics scheme in the HARMONIE short range weather model. In weather models the surface of the earth and the atmosphere are represented by a grid as shown in the image. As the grid size gets smaller the radiation scheme becomes more important (by radiation scheme I mean the solar radiation from the sun and the infrared radiation emitted by the earth, atmosphere, clouds etc.). This part of my work is in collaboration with researchers in Helsinki and Copenhagen.
9. How do you turn the output from a numerical computer model into an actual weather forecast?
Creating a weather forecast involves looks at the output from a number of models and in Met Éireann we also use an ensemble of 52 forecasts from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). Current weather observations from land stations and weather buoys, atmospheric profiles attained using weather balloons and radar and satellite data are also used. Another point that’s taken into account is how the models have been performing recently i.e. if one model is better than the others and also certain models perform better in specific weather situations. Forecasts are tailored to suit the customer e.g. forecasts for energy companies, film companies, marine search and rescues are totally different to those for the public.
10. Do you feel that the Irish are generally receptive and responsive to the idea of climate change? And would you be understanding of why some may be cynical in light of the recent cooler than average winters?
I think that the population is split on this one and I can understand why. Climate models have atmosphere, ocean and sea ice components among other things. The atmospheric component of the models is the same as those used in short to medium range weather models. These weather models cannot forecast beyond 5 days with much skill and therefore many people find it hard to believe that these same models, along with oceanic and other components, can predict averages about the future climate.
“All Models are wrong but some are useful” - George Box
11. Did the recent cold winters excite or depress you?
Excite me. It was great to walk across the Grand Canal which was frozen over for weeks – it was a bit risky but I may never get the chance to do that again. I also like photography and the scenes as a result of the snowfall in Nov/Dec 2010 were spectacular.
12. Have you any interesting experiences from your time working as a forecaster for Met Éireann – what were your best and worst forecasts?
I found all of my time working as a forecaster extremely interesting. I really enjoyed every moment of it as each day was completely different and I loved working as part of a team. On severe weather days, there is always a great buzz in the forecast office as severe weather sends the media into a tizzy. Worst and best forecasts – no forecast is perfect and people can take up a forecast incorrectly so it’s very difficult to answer that.
13. From a weather point of view, where in Ireland would you choose to live? And similarly where in the world would you choose to live?
On the one hand I'd chose Donegal as it gets very strong winds, heavy snow and is the best place to see the space weather phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis. However, it also gets a lot of gloomy weather so overall I think it’s much nicer to visit places that get extremes of weather, rather than to have them on your doorstep as you appreciate these much more when they are rare. Worldwide: I’d choose Norway or any alpine destination – snow and mountains are a perfect combination for me.
14. What advice would you give to young people wishing to pursue a career in meteorology in Ireland?
To give themselves the best opportunity of getting a career in meteorology, I’d recommend that they study for a degree in Physics and/or Mathematics and then do a Masters and /or Ph.D. in an area relevant to meteorology.
15. In another life what would you have been?
Other careers that interest me include: orthopaedic medicine, radiology, sports science, pharmacy, medical physicist, primary school teaching, promoting science. If I wasn’t squeamish, I’d probably choose to be an orthopaedic surgeon.
16. Which scientist do you most admire and why?
I’ll choose 3 living scientists for different reasons. Dame Jocelyn Bell who should have won a Nobel prize for radio astronomy. Brian Cox for his excellent science communication skills and Dr Tony Scott for all the tremendous work he has done in promoting science in Ireland by setting up the Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition almost 50 years ago.
17. What's the greatest piece of advice you've been given?
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” - Mark Twain.