BBC: Ben Nevis gets automatic weather station

The BBC news report that a temporary weather station has been installed on the summit of Ben Nevis this Autumn, this is 113 years after the original weather observatory which commenced observations in 1884 closed in 1904.

The AWS looks suspiciously like a Vaisala Weatherhawk (Vaisala WXT536) something I’ve always wanted to replace my aging Vantage Pro with, but something we simply can’t afford my wife says. It stands just a few metres from the summit cairn on what looks like a six metre mast with two huge solar panels bolted on it to provide the power. It looks like the whole thing is a publicity stunt funded by the NCAS and Leeds University to help get a permanent weather station for Britain’s highest mountain. I’ve hunted around on their site, but can’t find any of the data that its reporting. In all honesty it will be little different from the readings that we see from the SIESAWS stations on nearby Aonach Mor (1130* M) or Cairngorm (1237* M) to the east, but then again 108 metres does equates to being 354 feet higher I suppose.

Powering the AWS

The big problem is getting mains power up to the top of the Ben would be very difficult. Even if they dug up the entire tourist route and paved it at the same time, burying the mains cable under it as they did it. No one would want to put pylons up it and scar the whole mountain, the objection let alone the cost would be enormous. Solar power from solar cells might be the best answer, but the Ben is so often cloud covered, and in winter the amount of sunlight those panel would receive would be very small indeed. I shouldn’t think that the transmitter or the sensors would require that much power, but the heating of the anemometer to keep it free of riming would be enormous, and this would be required for at least 75% of the year at a guess. That’s probably why the weather station is being removed in December, I doubt that the temporary structure they have in place at the moment is up to seeing a winter out at 1345 M, the force of wind on those two solar panels must be enormous, and I suspect that if they didn’t take it down it would be blown down anyway.

Possible Solution

I wrote an article earlier this week about the fact that there are two weather stations on Cairngorm, one owned and run by Heriot-Watt university and the other by the Met Office. Wouldn’t it be sensible if Heriot-Watt and NCAS collaborate with one another and move the existing one on Cairngorm (the one that pops up out of a protective can twice every hour) and relocate it to the old observatory ruins on top of Ben Nevis? Of course this doesn’t get round the crucial power problem, which short of installing some kind of small nuclear power cell might always be the problem. They must have power on Cairngorm to run both weather stations, but because it’s close by the ski slopes there is power to the Ptarmigan restaurant at the top of the funicular railway less than a kilometre away. It must have been a tough job but someone must have buried an armored power cable right to the rocky top of Cairngorm to provide power for those weather stations, and did a pretty good job of disguising it because I never saw any sign of them – that maybe the way to go on Ben Nevis?

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*Station height
Addendum:- After a little investigation the prices for the Weatherhawk don’t look as expensive as they were a just a few years ago.

Recent Cairngorm observations

There must be some weird kind of icing problem going on with the Cairngorm SIESAWS over the last 24 hours, because when things should have been cooling off yesterday the temperature sensor got stuck at around -0.7°C for much of the day and wouldn’t go any lower until 23 UTC last night when it suddenly fell to -3.2°C (fig 2). Equally, the wind sensor has now just stopped reporting at 05 UTC this morning, but oddly the station is still reporting a gust, but no mean speed or direction. The Aonach Mor SIESAWS is also out of action at the moment so it’s impossible to confirm what I suspect.

Figure 2


But then as I am writing this, I do remember that there is there is another way to verify those temperature readings, and that’s with the help of the Heriot-Watt University Physics Department! They have had an AWS on Cairngorm since 1977, that’s the one that pops up out of a big can every half hour to do an observation (fig 3) such a British solution to the icing problem!

Figure 3 – Courtesy of Heriot-Watt University & Facebook

The recent thermograph from the Heriot-Watt AWS (fig 4) confirms what I suspected about yesterday’s temperature readings from the it’s very close neighbour the Met Office SIESAWS:

I hope they get the anemometer replaced in their AWS before much longer, they will certainly be hard pushed to replace it this late in the year I fear.

Overnight rain 3-4 November 2017

Figure 1

Wettest place overnight looks to have been Hurn in Dorset with 34 mm of rain between 18-06 UTC (fig 2). My estimates from the weather radar looks about 10% too low (fig 1), which at the resolution that you get from the Met Office images isn’t that bad.

Figure 2

15°C warmer than yesterday in places

Figure 1

It was 15.2°C warmer at Loch Glascarnoch at 06 UTC this morning than it was on Monday warming (fig 1), although there was little difference in the temperatures in the far south and southwest, where another widespread slight ground frost occurred (fig 2).

Figure 2

What they call Loch Glascarnoch is an AWS that sits midway between Loch Droma and Loch Glascarnoch (fig 3), on a featureless bit of moorland next to the A835 on the road to Ullapool. The only reason that I know a little bit about it is that it’s the starting place for a group of Munros called “The Fannaichs” that lie to the southwest, which my wife and I climbed on a summer’s day over 25 years ago now – how time flies! Don’t ask me why they don’t share the same spelling as Loch Fannich to their south, I have no idea. I recommend pulling into a lay by off that road on a clear evening in Winter to get the best view of the stars and milky way that you’re ever likely to see.

Figure 3 – Courtesy of Google Maps

A bit parky up the Brocken this morning

It looks a bit cold on top of the Brocken mountain in Germany this morning (fig 1). At 09 UTC the temperature was -1.3°C and the wind was still meaning 23 knots (Jag windchill -9.3°C). It’s not a particularly high mountain at 1142 M, and not that dissimilar to Cairngorm at 1245 M, although wind speeds never get quite as severe as they do in Scotland, the weather can still get pretty cold and stormy at times, as the plot grid for the last 24 hours shows (fig 2).

Figure 2

Overnight strong winds and coastal gales across NW Europe

Figure 1

As expected low Herwart did bring exceptionally strong winds and coastal gales to much of southern Norway, Denmark, Northern Germany and the Dutch coast overnight (fig 1).

Figure 2

The strongest winds seemed to have been in the German Bight and particularly the Alte Weser lighthouse, where winds got up to violent storm force 11 with gusts to 89 mph at 06 UTC this morning (fig 2).

You have to admit that the Germans did a proper job when they built the Alte Weser lighthouse which sits at the mouth of the Weser estuary, it still looks as elegant and modern now as it did back in the 1960’s when it was built (fig 3). Just for completeness here’s the plotted chart for 06 UTC this morning for that part of the world (fig 4). It certainly would have been an interesting situation if it had occurred in December.

Figure 4

Winter drawers on up the Zugspitze

The cold air ushered in by storm Xavier has certainly dropped the temperatures on the Zugspitze in the last 24 hours (fig 2). From a balmy max of 2.9°C yesterday, temperatures have quickly fallen away to around -9.1°C at 15 UTC this afternoon, but then again it is 9,718 feet up in the Wetterstein mountains in southern Germany close to the Austrian border. The strong northwesterly wind has died down a bit and they have had at least 20 cm of fresh snow during today, but how they manage to find any snow surface that’s not severely drifted to accurately measure a snow depth beats me.

Figure 2

Latest Tampa observations

Figure 1

Good quality observations have been coming in from Tampa every three hours overnight, it’s a great shame that the NWS don’t release the hourly observations that they must make. Forget about the position of Hurricane Irma and the contouring in this 09 UTC plotted chart (fig 1), at that time according to the NHC she was at 28.9° north and 82.6° west, with a minimum central pressure of 965 hPa, which is quite a way north of Tampa. I think it would be a good thing if most of the AWS in that part of the world are hardened/upgraded for the potential impact of a passing hurricane or occasional tornado. Observations from Key West stopped at 12 UTC yesterday, and the anemometer at Miami looks like it may have been severely damaged.

BBC News: Bid to rescue Ben Nevis weather data

Figure 1 – Courtesy of the BBC

Believe it or not, the hourly weather observations from Ben Nevis from 1898-1902 have still not been digitised. It’s a real shame that the Met Office haven’t already done this on behalf of the nation, instead of relying on volunteers at Weather Rescue to do it for them (fig 2). But then again, they have their hands full, because they still have at least fifty years of climate records that the Victorians left them that also need digitising, because at the moment their climate records only extend back to 1910 for temperature and rainfall, and 1929 for sunshine. It’s not that the Met Office haven’t been round for all that length of time because they were established in 1854 as a small department within the Board of Trade by Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy, it’s just that when they did discover computers, they were too busy doing other things with them to bother adding the climate records that they held in the archives.

Figure 2 – Weather Rescue

Personally I think as much effort that’s gone into digitising these records, ought to be put into to reestablishing the Observatory on top of the Ben. Well not exactly Observatory such as the Victorians built, more an automatic weather station, similar to the one on top of Cairngorm. I realise that there’s already a SIESAWS on Aonach Mor just across the Coire Leis from Ben Nevis, but its lower (1130 M), and simply doesn’t have the prestige of being sited on top of the highest mountain in Britain gives it. Power to the AWS would obviously be the main problem, and an extension lead 4,411 feet in length would simply be out of the question. Solar panels may help a little, but they would ice up easily and disappear under rime for most of the winter. A large rack of lithium-ion batteries may do it, but who would pay for them to changed by helicopter every month. A small wind turbine might do it but that again would ice up, maybe eventually some kind of fuel cell might be the answer for these remote places.

This is what the directors of the Scottish Meteorological Society said about the closure of the Ben Nevis Observatory in 1904:

“It is to the Directors a matter of profound disappointment that in this wealthy country it should have been found impossible to obtain the comparatively small sum required to carry on a work of great scientific value and interest, and that they are now obliged to dispose of the Observatory buildings and dismiss the staff”

It seems that little has changed in the last hundred years or more since its closure.

So if you have an hour to spare, why not volunteer your time to help digitise the Ben Nevis observations? I’m sure it won’t be long before the Met Office, in these days of financial austerity, see the potential in this idea, and will open up their archived observational records to volunteers to be digitised too!

Not so perfect start to Sunday in southwest

Figure 1

Not such a perfect a start to Sunday in the southwest this morning, with a band of heavy rain moving slowly, but relentlessly eastward. Highest 12 hour rainfall totals till 06 UTC were at Johnstown Castle in County Wexford with 41 mm (fig 1). This was well forecast by the Met Office model as far as I see, but the intensity of rain we have seen in places may not.

Figure 2

Three or four green pixels around Penzance indicating estimated rainfall totals in the region of 32-40 mm till o6 UTC this morning (fig 2). The Met Office have come up with another classic analysis that only Salvador Dalí could have conjured up. A simple occlusion, warm front, upper cold front, cold front, occlusion kind of setup (fig 3). I’m afraid all that can I see in the observations is a warm front across the west of Cornwall at 09 UTC.

Figure 3