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A wind of change - weather forecasting 25 years after the great storm of 1987 and the new 'sting jet' – University of Reading

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A wind of change - weather forecasting 25 years after the great storm of 1987 and the new 'sting jet'

Release Date 15 October 2012

The Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading is internationally renowned for its teaching and research in atmospheric, oceanic and climate science.  

Here Dr Pete Inness comments on weather forecasting 25 years on from the great storm and explains the emergence of the 'sting jet'.  

"The 16th of October is the 25th anniversary of the Great Storm of October 1987. Winds across the south-east of England were at their highest for over 250 years and there was extensive damage to trees and property. However, what this storm is probably most famous for was the fact that the weather forecast the day before it occurred was rather poor, predicting that the strongest winds would be across France.

"Much has changed in weather forecasting over the intervening 25 years. On average a forecast three days in advance today is more accurate than a forecast just one day ahead 25 years ago. Research at the University of Reading has also increased our understanding of what causes very strong winds in storms like the one in October 1987. In particular we are now aware of something called a "sting jet" - a region of particularly strong winds near the centre of a storm such as the one in 1987 - something we had no idea existed 25 years ago.

"Research led by Professor Keith Browning (1) and Professor Pete Clark (2) at the University of Reading first identified the existence of a sting jet in the October 1987 storm and other destructive weather systems. Ongoing research led by Dr Sue Gray (3) at Reading is continuing to develop our understanding of these events and how they can best be represented in the computer models we use for weather forecasting. This research has discovered that sting jets may be present in about 30% of the most intense wind-storms over Europe.

"Scientists from Reading have also been involved in field campaigns, flying on aircraft through intense storms to gather detailed measurements of these systems as they develop. On the 8th of December2011 Dr John Methven of Reading University (4) was the lead scientist on a flight through Cyclone Friedhelm, an intense storm which caused considerable damage across northern Britain. This was the first time a meteorological aircraft is known to have flown through a storm which contained a sting jet."


(1) Browning, K. A. (2004). "The sting at the end of the tail: Damaging winds associated with extratropical cyclones". Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society 130 (597): 375-399.

(2) Clark, P. A.; Browning, K. A. and Wang, C. (2005). "The sting at the end of the tail: Model diagnostics of fine-scale three-dimensional structure of the cloud head". Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society 131 (610): 2263-2292.

(3) Martinez-Alvarado, O., Gray, S. L., Catto, J. L. and Clark, P. A.

(2012) Sting jets in intense winter North-Atlantic windstorms.

Environmental Research Letters, 7 (2).


(4) Baker, L. H., O. Martinez-Alvarado, J. Methven and P. Knippertz

(2012): Flying through extratropical cyclone Friedhelm. Accepted for publication in Weather.


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