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Weather – the biggest challenge?

There will be plenty of challenges for the Flight of the Swans expedition team and weather is likely to be one of the biggest.  So we're very pleased to introduce Carolyn Gardner and Paolo Bellezze to the volunteer team.

Paolo is a paramotorist with a background in developing weather information systems.  Here he is flying over Glen Esk.

Carolyn is a meteorologist specialising in marine and aviation forecasting.


What will you be doing for FOTS?

We will be providing the team with daily weather reports and support in decision-making during weather sensitive stages of the expedition. There will be detailed daily forecasts of the area Sacha is in, as well as a five-day outlook forecast for planning. A lot of our work will be looking at possible local effects – micro-meteorology – which is really focusing in on a specific area, for example weather in a specific valley or over a coastline.


What are the particular weather hazards that the team is likely to face and where will they face the trickiest weather?

Wind, prolonged periods of bad weather, extreme weather events that could endanger the safety of the expedition team, extreme cold and winter storms are all likely weather hazards. We’re hoping that the team will be home before the serious winter storms arrive, usually in November. We will be approaching winter as the expedition team makes their way back to Slimbridge, so there will be a general deterioration in weather conditions to take into consideration all along the route.


What sort of weather will be the most problematic for Sacha flying in the paramotor?

There are some weather conditions that will cause very specific issues for Sacha, the most notable being wind. She can take off and land in approximately 16Km/h of wind, which is actually quite a low wind speed. Most of us would experience more wind on a ‘windy day’ in the UK.  This is, of course, a limitation but the low wind speeds are related to the ability to foot launch and foot land, allowing Sacha to touch down virtually anywhere. Once in flight she will be able to handle stronger winds, but these will bring turbulence making flying rough. The other is visibility, if there’s fog on the ground then again Sacha won’t be able to take off or land. If cloud descends when she is flying it will be easy for her to become disorientated because she won’t have the benefit of the navigational instruments found on an airplane or helicopter, such as ‘artificial horizon’. 


How much notice are you likely to be able to give the team about an impending problem?

We’ll be able to give them a general overview of up to 5 days ahead, more detail for 1-3 days and then the most detailed will be our ‘flight forecast’ which will be 24 hours ahead only. It means we’ll be able to warn the team of potential weather events in good time. For example if we see a storm building on a long range forecast we’ll be able to warn them of this being a likely event and they will be able to plan for the possibility.


Can you describe a scenario where the information you will be providing will be invaluable?

Our reports will be key in helping the team plan. For example if a storm is going to hit where they are, we can warn them and they can prepare their camp and equipment for it, they will also be able to prioritise actions according to the forecast. We’ll be able to let Sacha know if, for example, that day is the last good day for flying for a few days, which means she knows she needs to make as much progress as possible that day before she is grounded for the next few. Another important section of the trip will be the forecast for the English Channel crossing. Sea conditions must be such that if Sacha needs to land in water, the rescue boat will be able to get to her - something that gets more difficult with wave height.


Where and how will you be getting your information?

We’ll be using UK met office data and systems, as well as additional sources freely available online. We’ll also use met office synoptic charts, and observations from the ground. Some days it will be clear from our forecast what the team will be doing on that day, but on most days, because we will be forecasting remotely it will be a case of us giving the team an overview and then them making decisions based on what they are experiencing on the ground.


How regularly will you be providing the team with updates?

We’ll be giving the team daily updates and be in regular contact with them via the internet and by satellite phone.


What are the particular challenges for you of working in marine and aviation forecasting?

The main challenges are tailoring a forecast to the specific things that the customer is interested in. For instance when forecasting for a helicopter company they are only interested in the weather they will experience from ground level to 3000ft. Any weather limits above 3000ft will not affect helicopter operations therefore is irrelevant information for that specific customer. The other main challenge is explaining what is happening in a concise and easy way to understand without missing out any important details. For Flight of the Swans the forecast will be very specific too.


For most of us who are used to watching the weather on the TV, how will the information the team receives differ?

It will be less general than a national weather forecast. We will focus on the specific areas the team is in and the information we provide them with will be more tailored to the needs of the expedition.