Weatherquest, based at Norwich Research Park provides detailed and application-specific weather forecasts, which allow business and the travelling public to manage the risks presented by the worst of the weather.
Its data is also being used in research to help find cold resilient brassicas, such as cauliflowers, to extend the cropping season. Jim Bacon, Managing Director of Weatherquest explains, “We give accurate and detailed weather information which is simply not available elsewhere. Most industrial practices are weather dependent, and often the weather forecasts on the TV are not detailed enough to make business decisions, so we fine-tune this service based on our individual client’s needs”.
The company was established by locally-based experienced forecasters when the Norwich Weather Centre closed in 2000. The team saw an opportunity for a consultancy service and with their links to the University of East Anglia (UEA) Environmental Sciences department they have incorporated the latest research into their weather prediction service.
Jim recalls, “One of my colleagues, Steve Dorling, was himself based at UEA on the Norwich Research Park. So setting up business on the research park seemed a natural location, it is well known for its ground breaking research and expertise, so we felt it was a good environment to be a part of. More recently we have started working with the John Innes Centre in support of their work on plant research.”
Prolonged cold weather can also create shortages of winter vegetables. Data from Weatherquest is currently being used by Judith Irwin, researcher in Crop Genetics at the John Innes Centre, in a research project aimed at improving resilience within the horticultural industry.
The main focus of the research is helping crops adapt to climate change, but the science can help build resistance to temperature variations too. “For brassicas such as cauliflower and broccoli we eat the flower buds of the plant and they require a period of cold known as vernalization to trigger the flowering mechanism. This varies between species and by examining the temperatures required by different varieties to vernalize, you can select those that need different periods of cold to flower.” Additionally by comparing mean winter temperatures from 1961 – 2006 the researchers have found that Cornwall on average enjoys winter temperatures 2°C higher than Lincolnshire, and that this influences how varieties mature in these areas.
This information can be used to prolong the flowering period by selecting varieties that vernalize at different temperatures. This would be desirable for supermarkets and also for farmers who would see an increase in the crop’s profitability, as they would crop for longer.
Jim explains that at some stage all food is dependent on a weather forecast. “This doesn’t just mean in terms of growing a crop, but also the shipping, transportation and freshness of that crop,” he says. “For example, one of our clients is the Port of Felixstowe. For them, wind and visibility information is vital. Ships are unable to enter or leave the docks if the wind is too high or visibility too low. Likewise, cranes are unable to unload cargo, such as food, off the ships if the weather conditions are not just right.” Jim concludes, “Winter is usually a busy period for us as people worry about travelling up and down the country to visit friends and family.
For the companies we work with, busy periods usually come when the weather is significantly different from the ‘norm’. We are able to predict when this is going to happen and communicate how it will affect our clients, before it has a detrimental result on their business.” For a personal weather forecast call Weatherquest on 09065 77 76 75 (nb.calls charged at £1.50 per min-network charges)