The WAM Blog

  • Do you even really understand what I'm saying?

    Do you even really understand what I'm saying?

    Kaleider is a studio based in Exeter U.K which provides a venue to bring people together to make extraordinary live experiences, to produce new work, and to provide support for artists to develop, push boundaries and take risks with their ideas. It was therefore an invitation we couldn't refuse when we were asked if we would like to talk about WAM for one of their Friday lunchtime talks. It was a great chance to explore our ideas about colliding the sciences with the arts and to explore with the Kaleider folk what brings us together across the supposed arts science divide.

    We didn't just want to do a straight talk though. We wanted to do something a bit different. So we thought about starting off with a bit of play acting with a rather large prop and framing our little interactive production into three parts. It seemed to work. At least our bungled attempts to get the WAM banner up and our fetching an argo float into the venue got a few laughs and captured the attention of an attentive crowd. 

    Once we'd introduced some of the science behind argo floats and how they have helped assess the extent of global warming we moved on to a discussion about data. Scientists take data and build a new picture of the world. As do artists. And our ideas? It turned out a common experience in the room was that creative new ideas often come from "looking at a thing over here, and at a thing over there" and realising "that if you put these two things together you might have something truly original." And finally we thought about the results of our creativity. Scientists write papers, give talks, present posters, different perhaps from works of art, plays or novels. But everyone has an understanding of what makes a good story and this is no different for scientists reading a paper: a beginning, a middle and an end; a set up, complication and resolution. Furthermore really good stories don't resolve, they just lead on to the next thing, just like a good scientific paper that leads on to the next research problem to attack.

    This brought us on to WAM, our laboratory for finding out how we can talk each other's language, understand each others points of view and feel excited about weather and hopeful about climate change. We wrapped up and carried on the conversation as we took down the banner and man-handled the ARGO float out of the room. Connections were made with fascinating people doing intriguing things at the intersections between the arts and sciences. We're looking forward to the next WAM events and how we can build on the connections made at Kaleider.

  • Art and Skies - WAM at the Tate Britain

    Every December the Royal Meteorological Society holds a special open meeting on a topic that is interestingly different compared to the more normal scientific monthly meetings.  This year was no exception and the meeting ‘Art and Skies’ was organised by WAM (the Weather Art and Music Specialist Group) at ‘the Tate’ in London. The meeting was co-hosted by the Tate itself and the Royal Photographic Society. The Tate has recently acquired Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows by the English artist John Constable which was first exhibited in 1831. The painting contains a fantastic representation of weather enveloping the Cathedral with a superb Rainbow, crepuscular rays, bright sunshine, a threatening thunderstorm and a forked lightning bolt.  Art and skies totally encapsulated in one image! In view of the importance of the acquisition, the Tate has established, together with other sponsors, the ‘Aspire’ partnership. They are working, over the next few years or so, to unravel the importance and symbolism of the painting in art and social history. Also the painting is being exhibited at a number of venues in England (Ipswich, Salisbury and at the Tate); Wales (Cardiff and St Davids) and Scotland (Edinburgh) so that as many people as possible can enjoy the view!  I was approached to revisit the weather in the picture - especially the veracity of the Rainbow - following the initial review of the painting in my book John Constable’s Skies. There is much controversy about the ‘truth’ of the Rainbow to such an extent that the Guardian newspaper (tongue in cheek) called into question the purchase of the painting for £23.1 million as the rainbow is meteorologically impossible!  The Rainbow is wrong but it is magnificent[1]! Constable accompanied the picture with a slightly misremembered quote from Thomson’s Seasons (from Summer 1727):

                            As from the face of Heaven the scatter'd clouds

                            Tumultuous rove, th' interminable sky

                            Sublimer swells, and o'er the world expands

                            A purer azure.... Through the lighten'd air

                            A higher lustre and a clearer calm,

                            Diffusive tremble; while, as if in sign

                            Of danger past, a glittering robe of joy,

                            Set off abundant by the yellow ray,

                            Invests the fields, and nature smiles reviv'd.

    When Constable later exhibited the picture in Worcester in 1836 he chose the title Summer Afternoon – A Retiring Tempest. 

    The Tate were therefore open to the suggestion that we should jointly organise a December meeting around the theme Art and Skies to help publicise the Aspire partnership. The meeting was excellently chaired by Pierrette Thomet and the audience were soon captivated. David Brown and Gracie Divall from the Tate opened the meeting with an absorbing introduction to Aspire. This was followed by an enthusiastic Peter Hall who is curator of the Lighthouse Gallery in Woking – which is staging a Constable and the Weather exhibition in the Spring of 2016 (please google and go along and support). Then came my ‘Baconian’ solar geometrical analysis of Constable’s Rainbows followed by Richard Hamblyn who beautifully examined the symbolism of the sky as a ‘mutable screen of clouds’. We then heard Penny Newall scrutinise the poetry of ‘skies as art’ particularly exemplified by her performance of verses from Shelley’s The Cloud. Peter Moore then readily surveyed the importance of Fitzroy’s attempt to forecast the skies.  We finished with Mark Edwards appropriately reminding us that skies are not just meteorological – but they are astronomical and nostalgic too!  All in all a perfect afternoon.

    John Thornes

    [1] For a full discussion of the solar geometry of the Rainbow please see my essay for Aspire and my slides from the meeting on the RMetSoc website.


  • bb86a5fd019b1fec-EMSawardceremonytrophy.jpg

    The 15th EMS Annual Meeting & 12th European Conference on Applications of Meteorology (ECAM), 07–11 September 2015, Sofia, Bulgaria

    Well, what an exciting experience! My first scientific conference with my first talk at a conference, and an award ceremony to boot!

    My first impression on arrival was a slight cognitive dislocation between the rather opulent black and white marble bling of newly redecorated bits of the conference venue (the Hotel Marinela), and the remnants of the rather shabby old-style late communist luxury hotel, which kind of coexisted side by side. Every morning, the lobby would look subtly altered, with another bit of marble flooring laid on top of the old carpet, or a sudden wall appearing where only the evening before there was none. Discombobulating and exciting all at once - every morning a surprise!

    My second impression was a slight cognitive dislocation between the venue's usual clientele and the participants at the conference. While the hotel was clearly somewhere where businessmen with shady-looking entourages could come and relax and do business, the conference delegates were a very different bunch: modestly dressed, engaged in earnest scientific discussions, and all sporting those handy lanyards that instantly identify you as part of that club, the scientific conference. Even if you dress a bit more brightly and clearly don't belong to the scientific tribe, as I do!

    The ceremony was held in the old-style ballroom and I was very excited when I saw all the trophies and prizes laid out. Naturally we (Peter and me) assumed we'd get the smallest one, but we were proven wrong - the Outreach and Communications trophy stands a good foot and a half tall and is made of solid glass, so quite heavy! My first thought was 'how on earth are we going to get this home in one piece?!', but luckily a sturdy box was provided. My second thought, on seeing the box, was 'how on earth are we going to get this home in our suitcase given it was full to bursting in the first place?!'.

    It was, I must confess, a very sweet moment when I collected the prize from Horst Böttger, the President of the EMS. It's sweeter still because it recognises WAM, not me - this has always been a team effort, and it will always be a team effort. Which is what makes this project special, I think. It's also an honour for us to be recognised on a European level - and an opportunity! There are people across Europe who've now heard of WAM. Not bad!

    Highlights for me were:

    - Anton Eliasson's extraordinary speech on receiving the EMS Silver Medal - you can listen to it at, the speech starts at about 12mins10. In a few laconic sentences he provided a remarkable overview of how to solve a trans-national environmental problem (acid rain) and an explosive dissection of the problem of free data and the private provision of weather services. His presentation was illuminating, witty and inspiring. Hearing him speak with such clarity (both of thought and expression) was immensely refreshing and has made me think a lot about the real value of all manner of things.

    - Vasilis Dimopoulos from the Hellenic American Educational Foundation, Psychico College, Greece, on using 2D art responses as a tool to educate secondary school students about climate change (Communication and Education session, Tuesday 8th)

    - Fellow award winner Martín Barreiro (TV Weather Forecast Award) explaining to the audience at the Media and Communication session on Thursday morning just how much time he is given on air to explain weather phenomena and talk about climate change, to the envious gasps of his fellow broadcasters (he gets a lot of time!)

    - Jay Trobec's fascinating talk about his work as a weather forecast presenter on KELO TV in South Dakota (lots and lots of terrifying storms and tornadoes - Jay can interrupt any programme on his TV station to broadcast warnings and has been known to stay in front of the cameras broadcasting continuously for 4 1/2 hours!) (Media and Communication session, Thursday 10th)

    - Hans Olav Hygen from the Norwegian Meteorological Institute in Oslo on how the Institute is engaging Norwegian comedians to spread the message about climate change

    - a fascinating session of the Climate Change Communications workshop, which highlighted among many things the need to find ways of talking to people about their own immediate, local environment and the impact of climate change on their lives

    - the many people who came up to me and admitted to having a secret artistic passion, and the fascinating conversations that followed

    -... and the broad smiles that greeted me at the end of my talk!

    I met so many great people, and at the end of it came an invitation to come to the EMS meeting next year in Trieste to report on progress and maybe even add some WAM-style bling to proceedings in the form of a musical offering... I look forward to that!



  • A new website for WAM

    At last, a new website for WAM! 

    It's really very exciting to be able to introduce our new site, and also very exciting to see all the things we've done already in the same place with all the things we're about to do. Puts everything in perspective and lets us see how much we've achieved in such a short time. 

    The blog is a new departure for us, too - it's designed to be a place where all those of us who develop and run WAM events can talk about the process and keep up a conversation with our audience. We hope you enjoy our posts.

    So what's coming up next?

    In two weeks' time it's Award Time - WAM will be picking up the European Meteorological Society Outreach and Communications Award for 2015 at the EMS Annual Conference in Sofia, which is a very great honour and also a very great pleasure for me, since I get to go to Sofia to pick it up. I'll also have to give a presentation about WAM, and take part in a workshop on climate change communications, which should be interesting. I'm hoping to pick up some useful pointers from everyone else who'll be there, and I'm very much looking forward to introducing WAM to an international audience!