Met Éireann (Irish Meteorological Service)
Operational Meteorology might be said to have begun in Ireland on 8 October 1860, when the first 'real time' weather observation was transmitted from Valentia Island in Co. Kerry. Valentia Observatory as it came to be known, was one of a network of weather stations established around the Irish and British coastlines to enable storm warnings to be provided for ships at sea by the naval authorities in London.
For many years after Independence, Ireland's needs, as far as weather matters were concerned continued to be met by the British Meteorological Office. By the mid-1930's, however, it was clear that a new and exciting customer was on the way, and it was the requirement to provide accurate weather information for transatlantic aviation that led to the formal establishment of an Irish Meteorological Service in 1936.
The first Director, Austen H. Nagle, was appointed in December of that year, and installed himself in the small offices in St. Andrew's Street in Dublin which became the first Headquarters of the new Service. In April 1937 the administration of the existing observing network was taken over from the British Authorities; it comprised 4 telegraphic stations (at Malin Head, Blacksod Point, Roches Point and Birr), 18 climatological stations, 172 rainfall stations, and Valentia Observatory, the only station at the time to be manned by official personnel.
In its early stages, the new Service received continuing help from the British Authorities in the form of staff seconded from London to work at Foynes, in Co. Limerick, from where flying boats had just begun to operate. Included in their number were several who were later to become well known internationally, notably Hubert Lamb, the climatologist and Arthur Davies, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organisation for nearly 30 years. By 1941, however, the Service's own recruits had been fully trained, and the organisation was able to begin satisfying the increasing demands for weather information from its own resources.
Forecasting for aviation, first at Foynes and later at Shannon and Dublin Airports, was the major preoccupation of the early years. By the late 1940's however, the Service had broadened its activities. In 1948, for the first time, it assumed responsibility for the weather forecasts broadcast by Radio Éireann, which had been provided from London in the interim. In 1952 it began to supply forecasts to the daily newspapers and 1961 saw the opening of the new Central Analysis and Forecast Office in the Headquarters premises, now housed at 44 Upper O'Connell Street, Dublin. Live presentation by Met Éireann forecasters of the weather on Teilifis Eireann commenced in early 1962.
The late 1940's and the 1950's were a time of rapid expansion for the Service. They saw the establishment of a balanced nation-wide network of observing stations, manned on a full-time basis by Meteorological Service personnel. The climatological and rainfall observing networks were greatly enhanced, thanks largely to the willing co-operation of the Garda authorities around the country and the assistance of other Government Departments and State-sponsored bodies. At Valentia Observatory, which had moved to a mainland site near Cahirciveen in 1892, upper air radiosonde measurements began and a wide range of geophysical measurements and environmental monitoring activities was introduced.
Meanwhile the Service offered an expanding range of forecast and climatological information to the public and to specialised interests, a notable development being the inauguration of tape recorded telephone forecasts during the 1960's, the precursor of today's Weatherdial. The reception of satellite images began in the late 1960's at Shannon Airport and in the 1970's, the Meteorological Service might be said to have come of age by entering the computer era. Initially the new machines were employed for communication purposes, and shortly afterwards the computers were used for the relatively new technique of numerical weather prediction.
Throughout its history, the Meteorological Service and its staff played an active role in the development of meteorology on the international scene. Ireland became a full member of the World Meteorological Organisation shortly after its establishment in the early 1950's and was later a founder member of both the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts and the European Meteorological Satellite Organisation, EUMETSAT. More recently, the Service has been active in the formation of other co-operative agencies like EUMETNET and ECOMET. Particularly beneficial to the organisation has been its membership since 1989 of HIRLAM, a co-operative venture between the Scandinavian countries and several other European Meteorological Services for the development of a numerical model for short-range forecasting.
The modern era of the Meteorological Service might be said to date from its occupation of the new Headquarters Building in Glasnevin in 1979, a development which for the first time allowed all the Dublin based Divisions to be housed under the same roof. It was around this time too, that the Service reached its peak in terms of staffing, with a total of 342 in 1980. The intervening years have seen a gradual reduction in staff numbers to the present level of 230, a development brought about mainly by the introduction of automated methods for many repetitive tasks, and by on-going review of our priorities as regards weather observations.
During the 1990's, in common with its sister organisations in most other European countries, the service has adopted a more commercial approach to the provision of services to its customers, the aim being to try to increase revenue and thus lighten the financial burden on the tax-payer. This spirit of commercial awareness, however, has been combined with an enhancement of the Service's public service role in areas where this has seemed desirable, most notably perhaps by the introduction of Severe Weather Alerts and by co-operation in the monitoring of stratospheric and tropospheric ozone
In March of 1996, its 60th year of operation, the Meteorological Service adopted the new title Met Éireann with the aim of establishing a well-focused corporate identity in the public mind. The Service is proud of its achievements over the years, feeling that its contribution to the national infrastructure and indeed to the science of meteorology, has been consistently high, particularly when viewed in the light of resources available to it compared to our larger and more affluent neighbours. It is in this mood of confident optimism that Met Éireann looks forward to its 7th decade and the new millennium.