How weather drives our herd mentality

30 05 2013

We all like to think of ourselves as individuals, making up our own minds what to do and when to do it.

But in Human Swarm, a new Channel 4 documentary, Jimmy Doherty reveals new evidence that suggests that in many ways we actually think and move like members of a herd of animals and that this swarm behaviour is driven by the powerful force of the weather.

The Met Office has the expertise and experience to combine the latest science with ground breaking advances in technology and local understanding to deliver operational advantage to our customers that can help businesses manage risks and opportunities as they arise from our weather and our collective behaviour.

The documentary reveals that one of the most powerful influences on each of us is the temperature, with the smallest changes affecting us physically and psychologically – without us even being aware of it – when the temperature drops, our appetite increases, our mood alters and our health suffers in many surprising – and surprisingly precise – ways.

This March was the coldest in fifty years, leading each of us to demand nearly 20% more gas and electricity than usual to heat our houses. And when 63 million of us are doing the same thing at the same time the effects multiply.

It’s vital that energy suppliers have accurate weather forecasts to ensure enough electricity and gas is available immediately. The Met Office has one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, capable of one hundred trillion calculations per second, which tracks temperature and weather data round the clock, providing detailed forecasts for the whole country, down to less than the nearest mile.

> Services for energy supply & demand

Our swarm behaviour continues when we leave our homes. When the temperature drops below 10 deg C we use 43% more fuel just in the first mile of journeys. The cold makes the oil thicker; the engine needs a richer mix of fuel and air; and colder air in the tyres reduces their pressure and causes more friction. Cold weather motoring adds up to an extra £1.4 billion to our annual fuel costs.

> Services for transport

We eat differently when it’s cold too. Sales of porridge soar – Quaker Oats sell 200% more than normal, 20 million packets each week. Although we all make individual decisions about our breakfast, the overall result is that we act in a very similar way to a swarm.

Very small changes in temperature can have a profound effect on our health too. In December 2012, with the temperature regularly below freezing, visits to outpatients clinics shot up by 669,000 compared to the previous quarter. And analysis of 84,000 hospital admissions reveals that for each drop in the temperature of just one degree there were an additional 200 heart attacks.

> Services for health

Many businesses use the Met Office’s weather and temperature forecasts to run their businesses effectively. Combined with their sales figures the results can be extraordinary – when temperature changes dramatically they know what we want to buy even before we do.

At Morrisons’ 1.2 million square foot distribution centre in Yorkshire, the biggest in the UK, the supermarket’s ordering system uses five years’ sales and weather data to predict what we will want to eat and automatically select the right food to its stores.

Over this Easter weekend, the coldest on record, sales of pies were nearly 250% above normal. But, more surprisingly, cat litter sales were 15% higher, because our cats stayed inside. And sales of dishwasher salt went up by 138%, not because we have dirtier dishes, but because we think – completely wrongly – that it will clear our drives.

Likewise, when the temperature rises, we can be equally predictable. With three days of warmer weather, and the mercury hitting a ‘magic’ 18C, stores know we will all decide, quite independently, to have a BBQ. Within minutes of receiving a forecast of good weather, Morrisons divert from producing beef mince for casseroles to make burgers – distributing up to 1.2 million burgers per week, as well as the accompanying salad, buns and beer.

On weekend of April 20th this year, when the temperature reached 18C for the first time in 2013, online search for DIY items rose by 50% from the previous day and searches for mountain bikes doubled. There was also a 50% increases for the word ‘pub’ and a 54% rise in searches for tanning salons.

> Services for retail

“We are at the dawn of a data revolution - the amount we produce in our daily lives is increasing,” says Jimmy Doherty. “I can totally understand why this can all seem a bit disturbing – that everything we do is now stored as data – but when all this information is matched with the weather data it really does increase our understanding of our behaviour – as a human swarm.”

‘Human Swarm’ was broadcast at 9pm on Thursday 30 May 2013 on Channel 4 and is now available on 4oD catchup service





Cold Weather Alert Service extended to help support

27 03 2013

With cold weather forecast across the UK as we head through the Easter weekend and into the start of April, the Cold Weather Alert Service, which usually finishes at the end of March, has been extended for an additional two weeks.

winter-fogThe Cold Weather Plan, which has run successfully since 2011, has been developed by the Department of Health, Met Office and Health Protection Agency, and supported by AgeUK.

The purpose of the Cold Weather Plan is to help raise awareness of the dangers of cold weather on health with both the general public and professionals alike. It spells out what preparations both individuals and organisations could make to reduce health risks and includes specific measures to protect at-risk groups.

The Cold Weather Plan has been supported again this winter by the Met Office Cold Weather Alert Service, which notifies frontline staff across the health, social care, community and voluntary sectors, and AgeUK, as well as the general public across England, when cold weather could impact on our health.

The continued period of cold weather has brought substantial media focus. By extending the service we are ensuring that accurate and reliable forecasts and alerts are sent to frontline staff and carers in our health services. This will help them to look after those who are more vulnerable and ensure that they stay well and healthy during this prolonged spell of cold weather.

You can keep up to date with the latest forecasts from the Met Office on our website.





Cold weather continues across the UK

30 11 2012

http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/media/image/b/i/old_lady_image.jpg

The drier, colder and frosty weather currently affecting the UK has given some significant relief to those who have been hit by the heavy rain and floods over the last week or so. However, cold weather presents its own problems to the public too, not just from frost, ice and snow, but from its impact upon our health.

The link between the onset of cold weather and its effects on health is documented extensively in research journals, in the UK. Older people are particularly at risk as they do not feel the cold until their body temperature falls. People with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) also have a significantly increased risk of ill-health and hospitalisation during periods of cold weather and high levels of circulating respiratory infections. So many people are affected by the wider impacts of cold weather.

From 1 November 2012, the Met Office launched its Healthy Outlook® service, which is a telehealth alert service, available to patients through participating GP practices. Upon registering, patients receive a pack full of useful tips and contact information to keep them well during the winter months. Each registered patient will also receive a recorded voice call when conditions are forecast that are expected to increase the risk of symptoms becoming worse. The alert aims to give COPD patients sufficient advance warning to avoid the cold weather and keep well. The service aims to minimise the likelihood of a COPD-related exacerbation for patients and the consequential hospital admittance.

Katie Russell, Business Health Manager at the Met Office, said: “Even short periods of extreme cold temperature can cause serious illness for COPD patients. The Met Office has created Healthy Outlook® to help people with COPD take control of their own health. We monitor environmental conditions and warn people when their health is likely to be affected, giving them the opportunity to take action to stay well.”

As well as our standard service, we are also trialling Healthy Outlook® in selected high street retail pharmacies across the UK. This trial of the service will allow people to still take advantage of Healthy Outlook® even if their primary care trust (PCT) has not signed up. Healthy Outlook® is also available for the first time, online, through an e-pharmacy, giving further reach and support to those suffering from COPD.

Jane Devenish, Clinical Services Pharmacist at The Co-operative Pharmacy, said: “Offering Healthy Outlook® online means those who may be unable to leave the house can have access to this simple, yet effective service to help them prepare for periods when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and so they can reduce the risk of their condition flaring up.”

Forecasters at the Met Office are predicting more unsettled weather during next week but it looks like it will remain on the cold side, so it is important to stay up to date with the latest forecasts and warnings.





World COPD Awareness Day – it’s not too late

14 11 2012

Today is “World COPD Awareness Day” and is based around the theme of “It’s Not Too Late”. The day is organised by the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) to improve awareness and care of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) around the world. This positive message was chosen to emphasize the meaningful actions people can take to improve their respiratory health, at any stage before or after a COPD diagnosis.

The theme for this year’s World COPD day strongly reflects the work that the Met Office is doing to develop a health forecast that aims to ease the worsening symptoms that patients suffer from as a direct result of weather conditions and virus levels in the air.

The Healthy Outlook® service helps patients suffering with COPD stay informed about, and take positive action against any potential adverse cold weather periods that may have an effect on their well-being. It’s not just the patients that benefit either, Healthy Outlook® also gives professionals and patients the opportunity to take action by giving them advance warning of colder weather and circulating infections. Studies have shown that a 20 per cent reduction in hospital admissions can be achieved through the service, which helps patients to stay out of hospital and reduce pressures on GP surgery staff and budgets.

To broaden the reach of our service, Healthy Outlook® is also being trialed in-store in selected major retail pharmacies to give those suffering from COPD a more flexible method of managing their condition. By signing up to the service through the pharmacy retail outlets, patients can benefit from COPD forecast alerts even if their local PCT is not involved. This means that means more people with COPD will be able to get improved access to advice and support.

Katie Russell, Met Office Business Manager for Health, said: “We are excited to be working with the NHS and GPs surgeries again this year, as well as running pilot Healthy Outlook® services in retail pharmacies. The Met Office has been involved in COPD Health forecasting for a number of years and we are thrilled to be able to expand our network of expertise and support this winter.

“We have two major retail pharmacies working with us to broaden the reach of Healthy Outlook® and we are all keen to see how the pilots work across the UK.  The involvement of the Co-operative Pharmacy is proving to be a valuable route for patients to receive the service.”

When patients sign up to the service they will receive a patient pack containing advice and tools that can help them to manage their condition. They will also be alerted to conditions in the environment which are expected to increase the risk of symptoms of COPD becoming worse by an automated telephone call to a number of their choice.

Jane Devenish, Clinical Services Pharmacist at The Co-operative Pharmacy, said: “People with COPD can do a number of things to reduce the risk of their condition flaring up, such as minimising exposure to cold air and making sure they don’t run out of medication. With the alerts that are received through the Healthy Outlook® service people can make sure they are prepared for the periods when the weather takes a turn for the worse.”





Healthy Outlook® – helping patients with COPD this winter.

1 11 2012

Alongside our Cold Weather Alert Service this winter, the Met Office is working with the NHS and Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to help keep people well at times of severe cold weather with our specially produced Healthy Outlook® service. The service helps patients suffering with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) stay informed about any potential adverse cold weather periods that may have an effect on their well-being. Healthy Outlook® also gives professionals and patients the opportunity to take action by giving them advance warning of colder weather and circulating infections.

COPD is the term used to describe a number of conditions, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, where people have difficulty breathing because of long-term damage to their lungs. Poor weather conditions, such as extreme cold in winter can exacerbate COPD symptoms and contribute to breathing difficulties which often leads to a spell in hospital for the patient. There are around 30,000 COPD-related deaths each year in the UK and it is the second highest cause of emergency hospital admissions.

Katie Russell, Met Office Business Manager for Health, said: “We are excited to be working with the NHS and GPs surgeries again this year. The Met Office has been involved in COPD Health forecasting for a number of years and feedback from patients shows that 82% found Healthy Outlook® helped them manage their COPD better during periods of cold weather.”

This winter, Healthy Outlook® is also being trialled in-store in selected retail pharmacies to give those suffering from COPD a more flexible method of managing their condition. By signing up to the service through the retail outlets, patients can benefit from COPD forecast alerts even if their local PCT is not involved.

As with the standard service, patients will receive a pack containing advice and tools that can help them to manage their condition.  An automated telephone call to a number of their choice will also alert them to conditions in the environment which are expected to increase the risk of symptoms of COPD becoming worse.

The latest information about the weather and warnings can be found on the Met Office website, iPhone and Android apps and on twitter. Further information on Healthy Outlook can be found on the Met Office’s Cold weather and health web pages.





Guest blog: UV index forecast, helping you to keep safe in the sun.

11 05 2012

As the sun is set to make a reappearance this weekend,  Charlotte Fionda of the Karen Clifford Skin Cancer Charity writes this guest blog:

Last week was Sun Awareness Week, even though the sun did not appear to be aware of it in many places. This weekend, however, the sun is set to return and most of us will want to get out and make the most of the good weather. It is important to remember that although it may not feel that warm despite the sunshine, the sun is very strong at this time of year.

The Met Office provides UV index forecasts on its website so that everyone can keep up to date with how strong the sun is going to be. These forecasts take account of whether it will be cloudy, or not, when calculating a maximum UV index value for different times during the day.

The Karen Clifford Skin Cancer Charity ‘Skcin’ took over sponsorship on these UV index forecasts in April. Skcin is the UK’s only national skin cancer specific charity. Our key aims are raising awareness of the UK’s most common cancer, promoting prevention, early detection and sun safety via Safe Sun initiatives, as well as campaigning for a cultural and educational change.

There is a clear link to weather when it comes to skin cancer and thus a clear link to the work of the Met Office and the UV index forecast. This is why we are proud to be associated with the UV forecast and to promote understanding of the dangers of over exposure to UV and the importance of being aware of UV levels, so people can adequately protect themselves and hopefully prevent skin cancer in the long run.

If you are out in the sun this weekend, even if it’s not that warm, please remember to take care and avoid the harmful effects of the sun.

For further details on what to do to stay sun safe please visit the Met Office web page.

Skcin have also recently set up an award scheme for primary schools to encourage all schools to adopt sun safe policy and teaching.





Met Office in the News: 9 July 2010

9 07 2010

Many national news papers have run stories on the Met Office issuing a heat-health advisory yesterday. The Guardian leads with Weekend heatwave sparks Met Office health warning, while the Daily Express informs its readers of the 90F heat danger warning.  Gigwise reports on A wet start to T in the Park, and the Evening Times reports that Fans cell tickets over washout fears.  The full, and regularly updated forecast for T in the Park is available here.  As the hosepipe ban comes into force in parts of north west England the North-West Evening Mail reports that Haweswater levels running low and highlights United Utilities is working with the Met Office





First ‘Heat-Health’ alert of the summer

8 07 2010

East Anglia, London and south east England have been put on Heat-Health alert as hot temperatures are forecast over the next couple of days.  Temperatures will peak across East Anglia and south east England during Friday and Saturday, where highs of 31°C are possible in some areas.  However the weather will be quite varied elsewhere with some parts of the UK having rather unsettled conditions and temperatures only reaching the low 20’s.

The Heat-Health Watch system operates in England and Wales from 1 June to 15 September each year in association with the Department of Health and the Welsh Assembly.

The Heat-Health Watch system comprises four levels of response based upon threshold maximum daytime and minimum night-time temperatures. These thresholds vary by region, but an average threshold temperature is 30 °C by day and 15 °C overnight. 

A Level 2 alert is triggered as soon as the risk is 60% or above for threshold temperatures being reached in one or more regions on at least two consecutive days and the intervening night. This is an important stage for social and healthcare services who will be working to ensure readiness and swift action to reduce harm from a potential heatwave.








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