Met office to offer space weather forecasts

30 December 2013

Posted by Satvir Bhullar

The Met Office will begin forecasting the weather in space, in a move designed to protect the technologies we rely upon every day.

Funding of £4.6 million is being provided by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), making the UK one of only a small number of countries able to offer the service.

Space weather forecasts are to run 24 hours a day, every day from spring 2014.

Many of our technologies such as satellites, GPS and power grids are vulnerable to disruption from solar flares and space storms. A space weather forecast will alert the government and businesses to these events, enabling them to ensure services are maintained.

In 1989 a solar storm cause huge disruption in Quebec after it resulted in a power blackout lasting for 12 hours. The blackout occurred within two minutes of the solar plasma striking the earth's magnetic field. Fortunately, such occurrences are quite rare.

Universities and science minister David Willetts said the risk of disruption from solar activity is growing as reliance on satellite technology becomes more common.

"Space is one of the eight great technologies of the future and I'm pleased that this worthwhile project has received the funding it's due. These forecasts will ensure that businesses can plan ahead, keeping us at the forefront of the global race," he added.

Andrew Richards, a risk and resilience analyst for National Grid, said the new technology was essential to maintain the smooth running of the national electricity network.

The Met Office currently works in partnership with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Weather Service, sharing knowledge and expertise in the area of space weather forecasting. The new investment will allow it to strengthen its ties with the organisation.

A number of UK partners will be involved in the new weather forecasts in addition to the NOAA, including the British Geological Survey, Bath University and RAL Space.

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