In the early 1970’s there existed – at what must have been great expense – a network of nine full time Ocean Weather Ships [OWS] across the North Atlantic, the UK were responsible for four of them back then (A, I, J & K). They were reduced to just four in 1975, and to just one by the late 1980’s, OWS Mike was the last of the weather ships to be retired at the end of 2009.
I’m not suggesting that a fleet of OWS should be reintroduced, but what does puzzle me is that not one of the OWS was replaced by an automatic weather buoy. I realise that this too would not be a cheap solution, but NOAA obviously see the necessity of a dozen or more of them in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and Atlantic for monitoring tropical cyclones. The yellow rectangles I’ve overlaid on the map are where many of our extratropical cyclones are spawned impact western Europe each year, and yet there’s not a single weather buoys employed in these areas. Surely the nations across Europe could come together and do what the Americans do? I know the arguments behind why they are no longer needed is all to do with the great advances in satellite technology and the remote sensing of winds, waves and temperatures. That doesn’t seem to put the Americans off, so I know that they have a value. If we can send a remote vehicle to Mars to do all sorts of things as it trundles across the surface of a planet 395 million miles away, why can’t we monitor one of the great oceans of the world?
A cautionary tale from 1987
I do realise that the UK and France retain an ‘inner’ network of weather buoys around the eastern Atlantic nowadays, and the following article from the New Scientist in 1987 is one of the main reason why those weather buoys are probably there.
If you are interested in finding out more about the old British Ocean Weather Ship network the weatherships.com site is a wonderful resource for you to peruse. I never did manage to get a detachment to work on ocean weather ship when I joined the office – but then I turned down a ‘jolly’ in a Lightning – which was a great pity as well.