Weather is always at the forefront of any gardening endeavor, particularly when it happens to perform outside seasonal norms so what could be more appropriate than a talk by an expert on the subject, Chris Bell from Weatherquest.


Chris is originally from the Houston, Texas area and joined Weatherquest in 2005. He first came to the UK to study meteorology and climatology at the University of East Anglia as part of a study abroad program while attending Louisiana State University. He went on to complete a Master’s degree in Operational and Broadcast Meteorology from Mississippi State University. After spending three years in Mississippi, Chris and his wife, whom he met while at the UEA, decided to move back to England to start a family. They now have two children and enjoy living in rural Norfolk.


Along with his role as Forecasting Director at Weatherquest, Chris is also a Lecturer of Meteorology at the University of East Anglia. He can also occasionally be seen as a weather presenter on BBC Look East, which he has done since 2010.


Chris has had a lifelong passion for meteorology and remembers wanting to be a “weatherman” from a very early age. He is also a storm chaser and has been on many trips to the Great Plains of the United States in search of severe storms and tornadoes.


Weatherquest is a privately owned weather forecasting and weather analysis company based in Norwich and located on the University of East Anglia campus. It took over when the Norwich Met office closed. It provides a wide variety of bespoke weather products to large corporations and individuals alike. For example, Farmers need to know the likelihood of rain in a particular area so as to avoid sprays being washed from crops, companies operating tall cranes need to know what wind conditions are likely to be say, 40 meters above the ground and workers visiting off-shore wind farms need a forecast of the likely sea conditions on site. Also with wind farms, Weatherquest have carried out surveys as to the best locations with regard to wind conditions, for example siting them away from sea breeze circulation cells. Other people part of the team at Weatherquest that you may have come across include Dan Holley and Jim Bacon.


We all like to moan as to how bad the forecasts have been; Chris told us that thunderstorms were particularly difficult to predict. Over an area the size of Norfolk it can only be said that thunderstorms can occur somewhere; some areas will be drenched, others will have unbroken sunshine.


Chris spoke of his pleasure in storm chasing. This is very popular in the States where there are people with mini weather stations strapped to the tops of their cars who do this for a living. He told us about the time he borrowed his mother’s car on a holiday dedicated to experiencing storms. She was not worried about her car being damaged by tornadoes, but by hailstones. As you might expect, everything is bigger in the States; hailstones can develop as large six inches or more and you don’t want that on your car. Hailstones that large also build up a high speed when they fall. In falling they create a downward wind not related to the actual storm. The wind has to go somewhere – sideways, where it can be powerful enough to snap a row of telegraph poles. Weather forecasting can be a life or death matter. In Tornado Alley in the United States you can buy a radio specially designed to cut into the current programme and transmit any forecasts of imminent storms.


The inevitable question: climate change. Chris does not like to attribute any single weather event to climate change. Climate change is about trends over a period. One example: frosts. The date of the first frost of the winter season is getting later in the year and the last frost is getting earlier, in the last thirty years, one week earlier – and it’s getting warmer earlier in the year. More warm weather earlier in the growing season causes plants start to grow and bloom – when there is still the potential for a hard frost. So the climate is warming but the individual cold spots can still happen within that time period. There is also less rain in spring, more in winter. A poignant point on which to end.


Chris gave us a most interesting talk accompanied by slides. It was enjoyed by all, judging by the number of questions during and after his presentation.


Chris’s point on the unpredictably of thunderstorms: I remember one particular event many years ago; there was a get-to-know-you event put on by the Shi-Tennoji Japanese international secondary school in Herringswell, and to this end they had provided some very English fête type nibbles. The day started well – cloudless sky, shirtsleeve hot, what could possibly go wrong? Well, the weather, and quickly. In addition to the Samurai sword demonstration my abiding memory of the day was one of little triangular sandwiches actually floating on the plate.


Wind! Like the danger of storm chasing I used to have the mindset for calling on the wind to blow hard to make dingy sailing a little more more exiting, the bravado of continually voicing the opinion that there were no conditions so bad that you couldn’t sail in them. And then one day our bluff was called. On this particular occasion we had forty knots and a sea to match. Long before the start it was obvious that it would be total madness to fly a spinnaker and when we rounded the windward mark that opinion was reinforced – only an idiot would try. And then one boat did try – and they remained upright! Now, everyone else is at a disadvantage. One by one the rest of the fleet overcame their terror and went for it. As it turned out the sails were hardly necessary as the boats were now surfing down the front of the waves. It was very hairy. But now the interesting bit: as we approached the leeward mark there was the small matter of getting all that cloth down and stowed away before we could execute the turn and avoid hitting the beach. Somewhat thought provoking. In one boat, during all this bedlam, one of the crew lost her bikini top. Barely into her rectification of this gear failure it was explained to her in no uncertain terms that there were more important items of tailoring that required her immediate attention. She needn’t have worried, this event was not widely observed as one: the waves were such that other boats were only intermittently visible and two: everyone was totally occupied trying to keep abreast of their own deteriorating situation. In any case, the pair concerned were consenting adults. In the event that my reader is worried, most of us survived.


This months competition results:



First: Chris Dalton.

Second: Nigel Lincoln.

Third: Laura Lincoln.



First: Nigel Lincoln.

Second, third: only one entry! Come on guys.


Seasonal Photograph:

First: Jane Dalton.

Second: Chris Dalton.

Third: Laura Lincoln.


Our next meeting will be Wednesday 8th of February. Richard Forsberg will be talking about Salvias, Panache Plants. Doors open at 13:30, to start at about 14:00. New members always welcome