Operational Meteorology might be said to have begun in Ireland on 8 October 1860, when the first 'real time' weather observation was transmitted from Valentia Island in Co. Kerry. Valentia Observatory, as it came to be known, was one of a network of weather stations established around the Irish and British coastlines, by the naval authorities in London, to enable storm warnings to be provided for ships at sea.
For many years after Independence Ireland's needs, as far as weather matters were concerned, continued to be met by the British Meteorological Office. By the mid-1930's, however, it was clear that a new and exciting customer was on the way. It was the requirement to provide accurate weather information for transatlantic aviation that led to the formal establishment of an Irish Meteorological Service in 1936.
The first Director, Austen H. Nagle, was appointed in December of that year, and installed himself in the small offices in St. Andrew's Street in Dublin, which became the first Headquarters of the new Service. In April 1937, the administration of the existing observing network was taken over from the British Authorities; it comprised 4 telegraphic stations (at Malin Head, Blacksod Point, Roches Point and Birr), 18 climatological stations, 172 rainfall stations, and Valentia Observatory, which was the only station at the time to be manned by official personnel.
In its early stages, the new Service received continuing help from the British Authorities. This assistance was in the form of staff seconded from London to work at Foynes, in Co. Limerick, from where flying boats had just begun to operate. Included in their number were several who were later to become well known internationally; notably Hubert Lamb, the climatologist and Arthur Davies, Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organisation for nearly 30 years. By 1941, however, the Service's own recruits had been fully trained, and the organisation was able to begin satisfying the increasing demands for weather information from its own resources.
Forecasting for aviation, first at Foynes and later at Shannon and Dublin Airports, was the major preoccupation of the early years. By the late 1940's, however, the Service had broadened its activities. In 1948, for the first time, it assumed responsibility for the weather forecasts broadcast by Radio Éireann, which had been provided from London in the interim. In 1952 it began to supply forecasts to the daily newspapers and 1961 saw the opening of the new Central Analysis and Forecast Office in the Headquarters premises, housed at 44 Upper O'Connell Street, Dublin. Live presentation by Met Éireann forecasters of the weather on Teilifís Éireann commenced in early 1962. During the 1970’s the Climatological Division was based at 55 Upper O'Connell Street and later at Sackville Place off O’Connell Street, Dublin, before moving to Glasnevin in 1979
The late 1940's and the 1950's were a time of rapid expansion for the Service. This period saw the establishment of a balanced nation-wide network of observing stations, manned on a full-time basis by Meteorological Service personnel. The climatological and rainfall observing networks were greatly enhanced, thanks largely to the willing co-operation of the Garda authorities around the country and the assistance of other Government Departments and State-sponsored bodies. At Valentia Observatory, which had moved to a mainland site near Cahirciveen in 1892, upper air radiosonde measurements began and a wide range of geophysical measurements and environmental monitoring activities was introduced.
Meanwhile, the Service offered an expanding range of forecast and climatological information to the public and to specialised interests. A notable development was the inauguration of tape recorded telephone forecasts during the 1960's, the precursor of today's Weatherdial. The reception of satellite images began in the late 1960's at Shannon Airport and in the 1970's, the Meteorological Service might be said to have come of age by entering the computer era. Initially, the new machines were employed for communication purposes, but shortly afterwards the computers were used for the relatively new technique of numerical weather prediction (NWP). New high resolution weather radar systems were installed at Dublin Airport and Shannon Airport in 1990 and 1996 respectively.
Throughout its history, the Meteorological Service and its staff played an active role in the development of meteorology on the international scene. Ireland became a full member of the World Meteorological Organisation shortly after its establishment in the early 1950's and was later a founder member of both the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) and the European Meteorological Satellite Organisation (EUMETSAT). More recently, the Service has been active in the formation of other co-operative agencies like EUMETNET and ECOMET. Particularly beneficial to the organisation has been its membership since 1989 of HIRLAM, a co-operative venture between the Scandinavian countries and several other European Meteorological Services for the development of a numerical model for short-range forecasting.
The modern era of the Irish Meteorological Service (IMS) might be said to date from its occupation of the new Headquarters Building in Glasnevin in 1979, a development which for the first time allowed all the Dublin based Divisions to be housed under the same roof. It was around this time too, that the Service reached its peak in terms of staffing, with a total of 342 in 1980. The intervening years have seen a gradual reduction in staff numbers to the March 2010 level of 202, a development brought about mainly by the introduction of automated methods for many repetitive tasks, and by on-going review of our priorities with regard to weather observations.
Since the 1990's, in common with its sister organisations in most other European countries, the IMS adopted a more commercial approach to the provision of services to its customers, in an effort to try to increase revenue and thus lighten the financial burden on the tax-payer. This spirit of commercial awareness, however, has been combined with an enhancement of the Service's public service role in areas where this has seemed desirable, most notably perhaps by the introduction of Severe Weather Alerts, participation in the work of the (ERCC) Emergency Response Coordination Committee at the National Emergency Co-Ordination Centre (NECC) and by co-operation in the monitoring of stratospheric and tropospheric ozone.
In March of 1996, its 60th year of operation, the Meteorological Service adopted the new title Met Éireann, with the aim of establishing a well-focused corporate identity in the public mind.
In 1997 we hosted FASTEX, the “Fronts and Atlantic Storm Tracks Experiment”, a large scale international experiment focused on the study of Atlantic frontal depressions. In the 2000, the marine weather buoy network off the Irish coast was developed in collaboration with the Marine Institute, The Department of the Marine and Natural Resources, and the UK Met Office. 2001 saw the further cooperation with Environmental Protection Agency, Sustainable Energy Ireland, and the Higher Education Authority in the establishment of The Community Climate Change Consortium for Ireland (C4I) with the goal of developing regional climate modelling in Ireland.
In the early 2000’s, with the in-house development of the TUCSON automatic weather station, a programme of automating many of the manned synoptic weather stations commenced. As of 2010, 18 such stations have been installed, greatly supplementing the availability of real-time quality weather observation data from around the country.
In 2001 Met Éireann launched this web site (www.met.ie) and in 2008 a specialised web-based Met Self Briefing (MSB) service was introduced for the provision of aviation data (METARS, TAFS etc) to pilots and aviation customers.
In 2002, Met Éireann was moved from the Department of Transport to that of Environment and Local Government and the following year was involved with University College Dublin in the establishment of a professorship of Meteorology in the Department of Mathematical Physics. In 2005 the Aviation Services Division was awarded an ISO 9001:2000 quality certification which it has retained since then. A significant development in 2007 was the agreement signed with the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) for the operational running of our short-range numerical weather prediction model, HIRLAM. This offered a cost-effective way to access a high performance system for this core task and to enable us to introduce more sophisticated models in the future.
Proud of its record of public service, its development of the national meteorological infrastructure and its contribution to the science of meteorology, Met Éireann looks forward with confident optimism to the challenges that lie ahead.
Directors of Met Éireann, 1936-present