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Kirsty Lewis - Applied Climate Science Team Leader

How long have you worked at the Met Office?

I’ve had a pretty incredible journey in the 11 years I’ve been with the Met Office – there’s been plenty of variety and new experiences along the way. After gaining my Physics degree, I really wanted to travel and see some of the world before going back to do my Masters and I ended up in Japan teaching English. It was a great experience and I loved both the travelling and the teaching but I felt that something was missing. I went back to university to study for a Masters in Weather, Climate and Modelling and decided that I wanted to do something with that which exercised my scientific skills but still gave me the opportunity to travel.

What attracted you to the Met Office?

I was already familiar with the Met Office – they’re well-known as an employer of choice if you want to work in Meteorology. I first joined as a part of their Mobile Met Unit (MMU), providing forecasting support and expertise to the RAF. Neither the RAF nor the Army have their own meteorological departments, so the Mobile Met Unit deploys with the RAF to help ensure that their operations can run smoothly, as far as the weather’s concerned. Working with the MMU carries a lot of responsibility: you basically have to set up a ‘mini Met Office’ onsite. Although you’re working as part of the Met Office, you also really feel involved in the RAF as the work you’re doing is so crucial to their success. I was promoted not long after and found myself running a Met Office outstation at RAF Valley, the North Wales base where Prince William was posted. This was a fantastic opportunity, full of new challenges and plenty of variety. After about five years, I moved from North Wales, down to Exeter, where the Met Office is based. Initially I managed the Met Office’s college, where we train all our forecasters and scientists, but then moved to work in climate at the Met Office Hadley Centre.

What is your position?

Currently, I lead a team looking at climate change and security– an exciting role as applied climate science is a growing area of the Met Office’s work. When it comes to understanding climate change, we have some leaders in the field in the Hadley Centre, and part of my role is to ensure that our expertise is available and relevant, to help other organisations, particularly the UK government, understand what climate change might mean for the world. I work closely with our customers, helping them resolve their queries and establishing exactly what they need to know, I then work with other experts to develop and deliver useful guidance, or undertake new research to find out the answers to new questions. At the moment, I’m looking at how climate change can affect food security in a globalised world – it’s really interesting stuff. 

What is a typical day?

There are such a variety of customers and questions around climate change, that there is rarely a typical day. It’s great as I’m constantly learning new things which is fascinating. Many of our customers are government bodies who need to ascertain the international impact of climate change, but I also work with the military, UN programmes and multi-national companies. This adds to the variety of my role: one day, I could be looking at the interaction of extreme weather events on critical energy infrastructure and the next, presenting to senior leaders on the environmental effect of rising sea levels for small island states. Even though I’m primarily based at Exeter, the nature of my work means I’m not at my desk all day, every day. I travel quite a bit, sometimes London, sometimes abroad, this role takes me all over.

Best thing about working for the Met Office?

On reflection, my time with the Met Office has really fulfilled what I was looking for from a career: I’ve been able to travel, teach others and work with a subject that I love. There’s a lot of responsibility as I’m at the forefront of my area – standing up and talking about climate change to ministers can be a little daunting but very rewarding. Something that’s really motivating about the Met Office is that you’re in an office with lots of people who are experts in their field and still passionate about what they do. Also, being deployed on an active RAF operation is definitely something you wouldn’t normally get from your first proper job!