Gerry Murphy

Gerry Murphy

Gerry MurphyGerry Murphy, from Magheracloone, is a meteorologist and a weather broadcaster with RTE 1.

How did you come to be a weatherman?
I studied Science at UCD and obtained a degree in Physics. This was very relevant to a career as a meteorologist for which you require a degree in Physics or Maths. When I obtained the post of meteorologist, I did six months specific meteorology training in England and then started working full time for Met Eireann.

Obviously you were interested in science at school but did you have any influences or what pushed you in this direction?
I started studying Science at the Patrician High School in Carrickmacross. I found it very interesting and I chose to study Physics, Chemistry and Biology for my Leaving Cert. With this interest and background, studying Science in University was a very natural progression.

How did you get to present the weather forecast on TV?
To become a weather broadcaster with RTE 1 you have to be a meteorologist and a forecaster. RTE reviewed their TV forecasting team last year and after auditions, I was the forecaster who was picked to join the team.

Were you very nervous in your first appearance on TV?
Yes, I was nervous, but it is to be expected. With time the nerves disappear.

Can you describe a typical days work?
I work in two places – In the forecast office at Met Eireann Headquarters in Glasnevin, and in RTE on the days I present the weather on TV.

In Glasnevin my job as a forecaster has three main areas:
1) Analysis of the current weather – This is done using information obtained from weather observations at weather stations around the country and around Europe, weather satellites and weather radar.
2) Forecasting the weather – this is done using information derived from the analysis of the current weather and also using numerical forecasting models. These models make use of the weather observations and theoretically predict the motions of the atmosphere in the coming days. They are run on very powerful computers.
3) Communication of weather forecasts. This can involve presenting forecasts on radio, recording forecasts for the Weatherdial telephone forecast service, producing forecasts for local radio stations, newspapers and companies who have accounts with Met Eireann such as race courses, construction companies, ferry companies etc.

The day in RTE usually starts around 12:30 pm. As in Glasnevin, I analyse the current weather and formulate the weather forecast. I also talk to the duty forecaster in Glasnevin to ensure that we agree on the forecast and that the TV forecasts are consistent with the forecasts being presented on radio etc.
Having established a clear understanding of the current weather and the forecast, I prepare the graphics for my presentation on a computer. These are the charts and maps you see behind me when I am on television. About 15 minutes before the first live broadcast I go down to the weather studio. I do 4 broadcasts in a day. I also prepare the graphics and script for a European forecast on Network 2 but I don’t present it.

Do you think weather forecasting has changed much with new technology?
It has changed significantly in the last number of years by virtue of the fact computers have become much more powerful and forecasts carried out by the computer are now much more accurate then they were years ago.

What are your feelings towards the changes in our weather and global warming?
There has been an increase in the average temperature of the earth during the 20th century, and an even more marked increase in the past 20 years. In Ireland the 1990s contained some of the mildest winters on record, and some of the wettest years. This year has also proved to be an exceptionally wet year so far.

There are two distinct schools of thought within the scientific community regarding these changes. One group is of the opinion that periods of 12 years and 100 years are extremely short time periods in the overall lifetime and evolution of the climate, and that the changes we are seeing are due to natural variability and are part of a natural cycle of planetary warming and cooling.
The other group is of the opinion that the recent changes in climate are caused by man, through increased industrialisation over the past 200 years. This is the consensus view. I personally favour the second group, as the magnitude of the changes in recent years appear to be more marked than would occur in the natural earth temperature cycle.

It is difficult to say what this will mean for Irish weather. But most climate forecast models predict that in the longer term, our summers will be warmer and drier and our winters, mild and wetter.

Has your job caused you to travel to any interesting destinations?
Yes it has. When I worked at Valentia Observatory in Cahirciveen, Co. Kerry I was responsible for the quality of a host of measurements of environmental and atmospheric parameters such as atmospheric ozone, solar radiation and the Earth’s magnetic field. Many of the measurements were carried out as part of EU research projects. So I had opportunities to visit many major European cities as part of this work. The trip that stands out in my mind was a visit to an observatory in Northern Finland, above the Arctic Circle, a very cold but very beautiful place.

Have any of your forecasts turned out to be completely wrong?
Inevitably some forecast do go wrong, because a weather forecast is a scientific opinion, not a statement of a scientific fact. It can never be expected to be completely right all the time, especially in a year like this in which the weather is so changeable.

Have you ever been approached by anyone who may have seen your forecast on TV and gave out about it being wrong?
Once or twice, but most people appreciate that getting the weather forecast right all the time in Ireland is expecting a lot since our weather is so varied. I find though, that people love talking about the weather and have interesting stories about significant weather events in the past.

What are your predictions for this winter?
It is impossible to predict a season ahead as even the most complex forecast models, run on the most powerful computers can only predict the weather for the next 10 days and of those 10 days the reliability of the forecast decreases quite a bit after 5 days.

Do you have any advice for young people who may like to acquire a career as a weather scientist?
I think they need to be interested in science throughout their school years, in particular Physics and Maths. In my experience Meteorology provides a very varied and interesting career. Forecasting is only one area. Other areas they can get involved in include:-
Climatology – this involves studying past weather, trends of the weather and global warming etc.
Numerical weather prediction – this involves detailed research work to improve the computer weather prediction models.
Instrumentation and environmental monitoring – This involves measuring weather and environmental parameters and participating in environmental research on topics such as ozone depletion.

Do you return to your roots often?
I do regularly. I still have a lot of connections at home so I am a frequent visitor.

Many thanks Gerry and continued success.
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