Working atmospheres: contemporary and historical perspectives on weather and climate services

ICHM and CHSTM Workshop

Manchester 21 – 22 November

Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Organizers: Vladimir Jankovic (Manchester) and Samuel Randalls (UCL)


There has been relatively little historical and critical research on applied and commercial meteorology compared to that on academic research and weather forecasting. Through the twentieth century, however, commercial meteorology and industrial climatology became increasingly prominent, often attributed to a post-WW2 glut of available meteorologists and an emerging number of corporations exploring, for example, air pollution, emergencies and business interruption issues. Governments around the world have supported the development of an explicitly commercial meteorological sector to provide competition to public services in areas of weather forecasting and consultancy, although public organizations are still generally charged with collecting meteorological data and producing emergency forecasts.


Applied and commercial meteorology are more than simply weather and climate forecasting services. Air pollution modeling, building climatology, transport, urban planning, security issues and market consultancy go beyond the application of meteorology to practical problems. Even more to the point, meteorology and climatology as scientific pursuits can be bound up in economic, health, ideological, and geopolitical concerns, sometimes acting as a tool for those empowered to promote public policy interventions, secure geostrategic position or enhance economic growth.


More recently, there has been an emerging literature on atmospheric and climate services. While economists and others have long posited connections between climate and economy, these became largely sidelined in the emergence of neoclassical economics in the early twentieth century, a theory which couldn’t allow for external (non-economic) explanations of economic cycles or events. Even so, the economic implications of weather and climate were never far from public interest – witness the media reportage after ‘extreme’ weather events. The atmosphere, through work by people like Maunder, became both a resource and a hazard in economic terms, and the concept of climate services offers a fresh interpretation of how to think about and manage climate-economy relations in the future.


This two-day workshop is intended to bring to light some of these issues and stimulate discussion about the past and present climate services and institutional politics of applied atmospheric sciences, especially (but not exclusively) related to the concerns over anthropogenic climate change. The intention is to use the experience of both academics and profesionals to explore, identify and reflect on the current and past developments of the applied, service and commercial climatology and consider the extent to which these knowledges have enabled organizations and governments to manage weather and climate risks. Some of the issues include:

  • How did climatological services and commercial meteorology emerge in the post-WW2 period in the UK and overseas? What drives the rise of climate services? What is the current status of climate services and how does it reflect the past developments of service climatology?
  • In what ways do applied and commercial meteorologists construct meteorological expertise? And how does their expertise alter practices of living with and managing weather and climate risks?
  • Who should be responsible for atmospheric management and what the goals of those interventions should be?
  • What is distinctive about commercial vs public meteorology (and climatology)? How has this divide been discussed academically and carved up through regulation (e.g. Met Office)?
  • What connections are made between weather/climate and the economy? What are the tools, techniques and models through which this topic has been researched?
  • Where is weather knowledge? How is it produced outside ‘traditional’ meteorological organizations? Which companies or institutions have taken leading roles? How do these connect to debates e.g. about industrial pollution, public health, urban planning, ideological interventions, or geopolitics? How do governments encourage or discourage particular knowledges?


Confirmed participants:

Simon Carter (Open University), Alexander Hall (Nottingham), Michael Hebbert (UCL), Chris Hewitt (Met Office), Vladimir Jankovic (Manchester), Jon Oldfield (Glasgow), Wendy Parker (Durham), Richard Pettifer (Primet), James Porter (Leeds), Sam Randalls (UCL), Marta Bruno Soares (Leeds), John Thornes (Birmingham), Simone Turchetti (Manchester).


For further information, please email Vladimir Jankovic.