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Met Office moves weather observation site to Azure

The Met Office's Weather Observation Website (WOW) used to run on Google's cloud, but has switched to Microsoft's Azure cloud platform

The Met Office has redeveloped its Weather Observation Website, using Microsoft Azure, in a bid to support the internet of things (IoT).

The Weather Observations Website (WOW) was launched in June 2011 by the Met Office Public Weather Service, with support from the Royal Meteorological Society and the Department for Education. Its aim was to serve weather observers across the UK.

It was originally developed using Google’s cloud service, but the Met Office has updated WOW and moved it to Microsoft Azure, to enable the site to support the increase in the number of sensors providing real-time data.

Mark Burgoyne, CIO technical advisor at the Met Office, said: “The original aim of WOW was to engage with weather enthusiasts who have their own weather stations.”

But while the Google-based version of WOW that the Met Office built in 2011 was focused purely on automatic weather stations, Burgoyne said the latest version needed to take into account new types of internet-connected sensors.

“A big buzzword for us is IoT, with things like Hive and smart meters, he said. “More sensors would mean we could collect extra data. We wanted to be able to add new types of instrumentation easily and be able to scale much more affordably.”

Collecting weather data

WOW collects data from automatic weather stations run by weather enthusiasts. These internet-connected sensors can cost anything from a few hundred pounds to over a thousand. They offer the Met Office a regularly updated, dense network of wind, temperature and rain sensors, providing highly localised real-time weather updates.

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“We depend on satellites that look down, plus our core network of weather stations. But WOW is useful for meteorologists because it gives us a much denser network of sensors,” said Burgoyne.

The enthusiasts’ weather stations are connected to the internet and communicate with WOW using HTTP connections. The data they collect is uploaded automatically.

While it was conceived as a UK project, like the weather, the weather enthusiast community is global, so WOW records data from enthusiasts’ weather stations around the world.

“WOW provides a platform for sharing current weather observations from all around the globe, regardless of where they come from, level of detail or the frequency of reports,” said Burgoyne.

Selecting a cloud provider

The Met Office left it up to the bidders to decide on the best technology to use for the new WOW. “We compared all the clouds available,” said Maria Dorothy, project manager, observations, at the Met Office.

It chose to work with Microsoft partner New Signature to implement WOW on Azure.

Burgoyne said one of the priorities for the Met Office when building the new WOW was to keep management overheads to a minimum. “We wanted to minimise the amount of applications that had to be monitored,” he said.

The weather site experiences peaks in demand depending on weather conditions.

Dorothy said WOW helps the Met Office verify its weather warnings and enables it to be more accurate in the warnings it issues. She said the site has been optimised for mobile use, enabling people to use their smartphones to upload photographs of poor weather conditions. “We recommend people use WOW to report weather warnings,” she added.

The Met Office is also looking at how it could incorporate WOW into its weather forecasting models. “Our scientists are evaluating the data, looking at the impact of feeding in WOW information, and how to rank this data,” said Burgoyne.

As an example, he said the Met Office collects metadata about the automated weather stations that feed information into WOW to identifying their location. This is because the siting of a weather station can affect its readings. If it is in a shaded or sheltered position, the readings collected will be different to a weather station that is more exposed to the elements.

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