Weston Park Weather Station

Our weather datum begins its journey at Weston Park weather station, in the grounds of Weston Park Museum, Sheffield. The weather station was first established in 1882 by amateur meteorologist and museum curator Elijah Howarth. It is one of the longest running weather stations in the world, and data produced by the station make up one of the most complete climate datasets going all the way back to 1883. It is designated a climatic weather station by the UK’s Met Office.

Over the years responsibility for the weather station has passed down through generations of museum curators. The station is currently run by Alistair McLean, curator of Natural Science at Museums Sheffield, who spoke to us about his work.

Read through the ‘Data Journey’ and ‘Culture’ tabs below to find out more and add a comment to the discussion at the bottom of the page.

Then follow the Yellow line to the Met Office by clicking the link on the right.

Data Journey-0

The Journey Begins

At 09:00 UTC (10:00am British Summer Time) on 24th June 2014 our weather datum’s “Secret Life” began when a temperature of 18.5°C was observed at Sheffield Weston Park weather station by two different sets of equipment.

One datum was generated using equipment owned by the Weston Park Museum.  The other datum was produced by equipment owned by the Met Office (the UK’s meteorological service). The Met Office has been automatically transmitting weather observations from this site to its data centre every 10 minutes since 2008.

Photograph of a stevenson screen containing two sets of automated temperature sensors - one belonging to the Met Office and the other to Museums Sheffield.
Stevenson screen containing two sets of automated temperature sensors – one belonging to the Met Office and the other to Museums Sheffield.

These two sets of equipment sit alongside one another in the Weston Park weather station compound. Since 2013, the Met Office equipment has been the sole source of data contributing to the Sheffield Weston Park climate dataset that goes back to 1883.

We’ll be following the journey of the Met Office generated temperature datum as it is transmitted automatically from Weston Park – via the World Meteorological Organisation’s Global Telecommunication System (GTS) – to the Met Office‘s own data centre. 

Every day regular observations of the temperature are made at the weather station, as well as observations of other temperature variables, rainfall, humidity, air pressure, hours of sunshine, wind, and notes about cloud cover and the depth of any snow.

Despite the addition of the automated Met Office equipment to the weather station compound, the museum’s observation data still play an important role in climate science and meteorology. We’ll therefore begin by focusing on the production and distribution of the museum data, and its intersection with Met Office generated data during a monthly quality control process conducted at Weston Park.

Photograph of two tipping bucket rain gauges and a solar panel for powering the Met Office equipment in the Sheffield Weston Park weather station compound.
Two tipping bucket rain gauges and a solar panel for powering the Met Office equipment in the Sheffield Weston Park weather station compound.

 

Producing the Museum dataset

The Weston Park Museum climate station has been observing the weather since 1882.

Observations for climate data are made according to a strict routine. Daily data are collected at 9am GMT during winter months and 10am BST during summer months. Historically these observations have been recorded in a Met Office observers’ Blue Book – Metform 3100. They are recorded according to the strict conventions and measurements detailed in The Observer’s Handbook. Completed records are retained in both the Weston Park Museum and Met Office archives.

These data are generated using the museum’s weather station equipment, which has been automated since around 2000. Since the installation of this automated equipment, hourly readings are taken from which key climate data can be calculated automatically.

All of these weather observation data – including our temperature reading of 18.5°C on 24th June – are automatically written to CSV files and uploaded daily into an Access database by curator Alistair McLean. This database is specifically designed for the purpose of maintaining the station’s weather records and disseminating data and reports to others who are interested in the data.

Ensuring quality

As they are uploaded to the museum’s Access database, data are converted into standardised units. This ensures consistency with Met Office conventions and with observations made in previous years.

Different instruments made by different manufacturers can vary in the type of units they measure (for example – metric or imperial measurements). Changes in instruments over the years can therefore mean changes in unit measurements. This standardisation process means that all data are recorded in the database using the same unit of measurement.

Once the temperature datum has been standardised, the dataset it belongs to is automatically checked for errors. There are acceptable tolerance levels for each type of weather observation. A computer looks at whether our temperature reading is much higher or lower than expected compared with seasonal expectations, manual observations, or other recent observations.

If an error is spotted it is investigated by Alistair and corrected if necessary. The data set is annotated with a record of any changes Alistair needs to make.

Errors in the data can be caused by various things including equipment malfunction and vandalism. If an equipment problem is found then Alistair will ensure it is dealt with in order to maintain quality.

Once a month the museum data come into contact with the Met Office data during a quality control process. Every month, the Met Office calculates its own summaries of climate data from its data and shares these with Alistair who compares the Met Office summary with the museum generated data. Any significant differences are reported back to the Met Office, along with any additional data from the museum’s equipment such as the daily weather diary. This checking process aims to spot any problems with the data being generated by either of the two sets of equipment.

Sharing the data

Even though the Met Office now collects its own data automatically from Weston Park, Alistair continues to supply them with monthly climate data generated by the museum equipment.

In addition to supplying these climate data to the Met Office, Weston Park museum shares its weather data in a number of ways. Every day, Alistair creates a report of weather observations for the last 24 hours and a forecast for the next 24 hours. He sends this out to local organisations such as Sheffield Town Hall, local libraries, local media and the universities.  It also gets sent to a number of other paying subscribers, and is posted to Twitter for use by the general public. You can see the June 24th temperature reading being reported on the weather station’s Twitter account in the tweet at the top of the page.

Daily weather report, 2nd March 2015, produced by Weston Park Weather Station, Museums Sheffield
Daily weather report, 2nd March 2015, produced by Weston Park Weather Station, Museums Sheffield

Every week Alistair also sends a weekly summary to a firm called WeatherNet for a fee. WeatherNet aggregate weather observation data from across the UK and supply it to commercial clients in the legal, insurance and construction sectors.

Monthly and annual reports based on data sent to the Met Office are also compiled by Alistair and supplied to email subscribers and social media followers.

Monthly weather statistics report, March 2015, Weston Park Weather Station, Museums Sheffield.
Monthly weather statistics report, March 2015, Weston Park Weather Station, Museums Sheffield.

In addition to these regular reports, Alistair also shares data with people on an ad hoc basis. Requests for data come from a diverse range of people including members of the public trying to corroborate insurance claims, university students and researchers.

Culture-1

Public service

Photograph of Alistair McLean, Curator of Natural Sciences at Museums Sheffield with the ground thermometer. Ground temperature was originally observed at Sheffield Weston Park in order to understand outbreaks of fatal illness in the city. Readings continue to be taken in order to maintain the archive for posterity.
Alistair McLean, Curator of Natural Sciences at Museums Sheffield, with the ground thermometer. Ground temperature readings continue to be taken in order to maintain the archive for future generations.

The Weston Park weather station comes from a long tradition of public service and support for research, with its original purpose being to contribute to the public health work of the nearby hospital. Ground temperature was originally observed at Sheffield Weston Park in order to understand outbreaks of fatal illness in the city.

In line with this tradition, Alistair recognises the data produced by the museum station as being “part of our heritage” and within “public ownership”, and he is dedicated to contributing to a wider local weather data ecosystem.

As curator, he answers over 200 queries a month from local people about weather conditions, makes regular appearances in the local newspaper – the Sheffield Star (They’ve even got a stock photograph of me now!(WP_01)), provides datasets for local students and academics, and provides a Twitter feed of observations for 600 followers.

 

Alistair is even undertaking his own research project on the impact of weather on the emergence patterns of male black garden ants, which he plans to publish in the local natural history society’s journal -The Sorby Record - after a decade or so(WP_01) of data collection.

Sheffield’s weather station

Alistair McLean describes how the weather station is part of the local fabric of Sheffield:

I think that that weather station out there means more to the people that work in the museum service and the people of Sheffield than it does to anyone else. (WP_01)

Photograph of Weston Park Weather Station in the grounds of Weston Park Museum, Sheffield
Weston Park Weather Station in the grounds of Weston Park Museum, Sheffield

He reports how when a Campbell Stokes device – a valuable piece of observing equipment – was stolen from the roof of the museum in the 1990s, the people of Sheffield rallied to replace it, fundraising £3000 “in a matter of weeks” (WP_01).

Local history

Alistair has a deep knowledge of the history of the weather station, and has many stories to tell about its past. Listen to this clip in which he shares some of these stories:

Pride and responsibility

These local and historic connections are a source of pride and responsibility for the curator:

I’m quite proud of my involvement with the weather station, possibly more proud than I am of any other aspect of my curatorial work. (WP_01)

You just feel like you’re the next link in the chain, which of course conveys a lot of pressure on to make sure you don’t cock it up as well [laughs]. The weather station, during its life has been under threat on a couple of occasions. I think it’s safe to say that, and you don’t want you to be the last curator. (WP_01)

Data quality

These values and feelings have a significant impact on the data that is generated by the weather station. A lot of care is taken in ensuring the quality of the data:

Quality was very important, as it still is, because any data that we sent was rigorously checked by the Met Office…and any data that was considered wrong for whatever reason was always sent back with a red underline, and we felt bad that we’d made a mistake of some variety. It didn’t happen very often. (WP_01)

Data sharing

The data that is produced by the weather station is highly valued and flows relatively freely for others – including the Met Office – to use and add value to.

However there are some restrictions on the re-use of the data that reflect Alistair’s understanding of the relationship between public ownership and private exploitation:

I think that there probably is a risk that if you make it open for everybody, including people that are going to make an awful lot of money from it, you’re ripping off the country to a certain extent. (WP_01)

With this in mind the station sustains itself through charging for some commercial uses of the data and levying token charges of around £15 for those who want to use the data to support insurance claims.

This belief challenges the increasingly common idea that publicly funded data should be freely available – as Open Data – for commercial exploitation. This is an issue that is debated by many academics, policy makers and public data producers and users.

Austerity and vulnerability

Despite its importance to the local community and climate research, in recent years Weston Park weather station has been threatened by public sector funding cuts which have led to staffing reductions in the museum service.

In order to adapt to some of these pressures and ensure the continuity of the Weston Park climate record, the previous curator allowed the Met Office to add its own weather observation equipment to the weather station compound in 2008.

I do think [the Met Office] consider the dataset and the fact that it’s still growing important. (WP_01)

But, as Alistair describes, this development, whilst likely necessary for the longer term preservation of the station, has impacted upon the relationship between the local museum weather station and the national Met Office:

It’s more one sided I think, the relationship. In the past they needed us more than we needed them, whereas now it’s not the case…it’s much less of an equal relationship I think from that point of view. (WP_01)

[The museum station] means much more to us than it does to the Met Office I think. The Met Office may say differently. (WP_01)

Resilience

Yet, for the time being the museum weather station remains resilient, defended by a curator who recognises the new Met Office equipment as “secondary to our equipment” (WP_01), and with confidence that the people of Sheffield would “do their nut, not to put too fine a point on it” (WP_01) if the museum station was ever threatened with closure.

Archive sources


We’d like you to take a  minute to reflect on what you have read above and add a comment to the discussion below.  

Here are some questions to get you started:

  • How do you think the cultural values of the museum curator might impact upon the production and quality of the weather data produced at Sheffield Weston Park?
  • What different types of value do you think the weather station and its data hold for the people of Sheffield?
  • What are your thoughts on the curator’s beliefs about sharing the weather data produced by the museum?
  • How would you feel if the data generated at Sheffield Weston Park were being used by organisations with cultural values that challenge or go against the values of those who produce it?
  • How do you feel about the new automated Met Office equipment at Weston Park? What impact do you think this might have on the future of the station?

Once you have posted a comment, follow the Yellow line to the Met Office by clicking the link on the right, or if you prefer navigate to another station using the map at the top of the page.

By posting a comment you confirm that you agree to our conditions of participation.  

40 thoughts on “Weston Park Weather Station”

  1. It is likely that government spending cuts will threaten the future of Western Park Weather Station. This would be a real shame, as the station evidently has a high social, cultural and historical value for the people of Sheffield, and loosing it would mean sacrificing part of the city’s scientific heritage.

    1. Not only that but I think it represents a loss of control for the local community over this data – important if data is to be part of a democratic project, improving local communities not just a feeder for the market.

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    3. A Pesquisa nunca vai conseguir desbancar um processo de experimentação. Quando se pesquiza um assunto, se faz baseado em obras de pensadores que não encontrando material de pesquisa para sanarem suas dúvidas, vão atraz das evidências para descobrir a verdade. atravez de um método científico de tradução e descobertas nunca antes feitas. Para desbancar isto só a realização de uma outra busca, por exemplo, outro estudioso de Línguas estudando as plaquetas sumérias e desenvolvendo um raciocínio que no mínimo coloque dúvidas sobre aquele que o zacharia fez.

    4. Durata de viata a unei centrale termice murale este de 10 ani. In cazuri exceptionale poate sa te tina si mai mult. Iti spun eu, tu esti un caz fericit … Daca mai apare inca o problema la ea eu zic s-o schimbi cu una noua.

  2. It is actually an innovative experiment and addition to the Western Park Weather Station. It promotes the development of weather information and advocates the knowledge to the public, in which I think the project should go on and it will be a huge tourist spot to attract visitors.

  3. In line with the cultural values of recording the weather of the local area in Sheffield, education and public health should be one of the focus of encouraging such work to go on. If these facilities hold such importance to the local people, then public education must go hand in hand to safeguard it.

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  4. I am impressed with the variety of ways in which the data is shared with the people of Sheffield, such as via Twitter and through local organisations such as libraries. I think this helps to build public engagement with the project and makes it accessible to a wide range of people.

  5. With the introduction of the automated station it may be the case that the mannual observations may stop being used all together in the future

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  6. Very neat that this was started by an amateur meteorologist and has come to have such an impact on the greater community. A bit telling that the Met Office doesn’t seem to trust the recordings, though – this seems like community project rather than something that would have an impact through a wider area.

  7. I think it is a really good project, as it is important that the public gain this knowledge. I also believe it would encourage me and others to visit the weather station after reading this information.

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  8. I think this would be very useful for comparing the weather in Sheffield with other cities across the country, particularly if data exists on the amount of pollution being produced by each city.

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