History of the Guernsey Met Office

It was as long ago as 1777 that Elisha Dobree (Douzenier and Constable of St. Peter Port) started a local weather journal. This was the beginning of a regular weather record for the Island that has continued, virtually unbroken, to the present time.

Old Elisha maintained his journal for a staggering 67 years until his death in 1844. Fortunately for Guernsey, another dedicated enthusiast, Dr. Samuel Hoskins FRS had started recording weather in an organised data format in 1842 and kept up the good work until he handed over the reins to Mr. A Collenette in 1880.

In 1902, the States of Guernsey decided that reliable weather records for Guernsey were necessary and started to put the whole process on a more formal footing. They agreed to pay Mr. Collenette £50:00 per annum to maintain his record on a daily basis.

During the First World War it became increasingly obvious that keeping a comprehensive weather record was not just a fancy of the eccentric. Guernsey’s unique geographical position in the English Channel meant that reliable local weather reports were considered crucial to the developing forecasting service in the UK. Demand for meteorological services was also increasing within the Bailiwick and Mr. Collenette soon found the workload becoming too much.

Dr. Napier Shaw, Director of the UK Meteorological Office was consulted for advice and in 1918 the States made a decision to create a Meteorological Committee and purchase Mr. Collenette’s equipment and records for £150:00. Mr. Collenette’s annual grant was also increased to £80:00. He was now able to employ extra staff and in 1919 Mr. H. Leale was appointed to assist. In 1921 Mr. V. Miles entered the Office as an understudy. Mr. Collenette’s daughter Miss E. N. Collenette and a Miss Beaston were also employed to help out.

Until 1921 the Met. Office was sited at a private property – “Brooklyn” in the Fort Road, St. Martins. This was a rented property and events were about to take another twist when Mr. Collenette was given notice to quit. A new site had to be found and this was the opportunity for a purpose built Observatory behind Lukis House in the Grange.

Sadly Mr. Collenette died soon after the move was completed, and Mr. Miles was promoted to Senior Observer. Over the next few years a number of assistants were appointed and two of these were due to serve the Office for many years. The first, “Dougie” Sackett joined the Office in 1922 and was promoted to Senior Observer in 1935, eventually retiring in 1967 after 45 years service. The second, Max Hewitt, joined in 1939 in order to assist a planned move to the Airport. He took over as Senior Observer in 1967 and eventually retired in 1974 after 35 years service, handing over the reins to Mike Lillington.

Yes! Guernsey Met Office has joined the computer age with new digital sensing equipment.
(photo by J. Phillips)

The Second World War delayed the move to the Airport until 1946 after which the Lukis House Observatory was closed down. The Meteorological Committee was absorbed into the larger Board of Administration under whose umbrella it remains to this day.

The Office was initially housed on the first floor of the Airport Terminal Building, but increasing demands from aviation and the public prompted a move to a more accessible ground floor office alongside the Flight-Briefing Unit.

In 1977 a new Technical Block was completed to the west of the Airport Terminal and so another short move was made to our present accommodation on the first floor of this new building. For the first time since the Lukis House days, the office had been specifically designed for the job in hand. Senior Observer Mike Lillington had played a big part in the planning of this new office and during his reign he was also to witness a steady growth in the public demand for weather related services.

Mike left the Office in 1986 after 27 years service and John Phillips – another long serving officer who joined in 1966 – took over as Senior Observer. Tim Lillington, succeeded John in 1997. Martin Crozier took over the reigns from Tim in 2007 following Tim's retirement.

In the last decade the Office has undergone many changes. Advances in electronic sensing equipment, and the introduction of the computer into every facet of the operation has meant that the Observer now has control over far more data than was ever thought possible in Elisha’s day.

Present day observation desk
(photo by J. Phillips)

So what actually happens in a modern Met. Office? These days our “Raison d’être” is, of course, the provision of current and reliable information to Air Traffic Control in particular and aviation in general. However, we continue to maintain Guernsey’s weather record with a comprehensive hour-by-hour analysis of the local weather. Apart from adding to the historical archive, the data we record is supplied to a growing number of customers either in the form of individual summaries or monthly and annual weather reports.

We also form part of a worldwide family of observing stations that feed a constant stream of information into the National Met. Office Headquarters computer at Exeter. This information helps the experts to understand weather patterns more thoroughly, and therefore develop more accurate forecasts.

It is important that weather conditions are monitored continuously and in order to achieve this the Office is manned throughout the 24hours on every day of the year. This has been the case since the Airport Observatory was opened in 1946, and it is a credit to the foresight of the Guernsey States in those early years that we can now call on an unbroken weather record spanning much of the last century.

The early pioneers could not have foreseen all those years ago that such major issues as global warning, the “El Nino” effect and other weather related phenomena would feature so large in the news at the turn of the millennium, and that Guernsey’s meteorological archive would be playing its small but important part in the scientific community’s endeavours to try to work out “what happens next?”!