Article 16.12.2021

The safety authority is on duty while others sleep

Not only does the Finnish Meteorological Institute conduct research and make weather forecasts, but it is also a safety authority that is on duty around the clock.
Photo: Mika Pakarinen / Keksi Agency

What is there in common with a storm in Finland, an earthquake in Mexico, a tsunami in Asia, a powerful solar storm and an accident at a nuclear plant? All of these incidents are monitored in the 24/7 weather duty service of the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

As an authority, the Finnish Meteorological Institute has its own role in safeguarding the whole society and especially its operations that are critical for safety.

“The role of the Finnish Meteorological Institute as an authority has been emphasized and diversified noticeably in the last ten years. The development has been affected by the increasing sensitivity to weather in the society, and on the other hand, the need to refine the weather conditions data even further,” says Ari-Juhani Punkka, Readiness Manager at the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

Finnish Meteorological Institute safeguards the whole society and its operations that are critical for safety.

"The weather duty has formed into a nerve centre of information about natural disturbances because of that development. It works around the clock with specialists in the sister sciences of meteorology. The development offers the meteorologists interesting challenges and continuously opens new doors to national and international cooperation.”

One of the biggest users of the weather safety information is the transportation sector. Especially in varying weather conditions, such as in Finland, the correct weather conditions data is a prerequisite for safe and smooth road, maritime and air transport. Other important clients include the Finnish Defence Forces, the rescue services, the Finnish Border Guard and the Finnish Government Situation Centre.

According to legislation, the Finnish Meteorological Institute is also responsible for calculating the spread and the drift of dangerous substances in relation with, for example, radiation situations, accidents involving chemicals or oil spills.

LUOVA provides authorities with information

The Finnish Meteorological Institute monitors both Finnish and global natural disasters and extreme weather phenomena and provides information about them to other authorities via the LUOVA system. The LUOVA weather duty service works in connection with the Finnish Meteorological Institute’s Safety Weather Services around the clock, every day of the year.

“Through LUOVA, authorities get the most accurate information possible in advance as well as impact assessments on incidents that threaten the safety of the population or the operations of critical infrastructure,” Punkka explains.

Based on this information, authorities will optimise their own preparedness and warn the population. The meteorologists at the Finnish Meteorological Institute will brief the users of the weather conditions data directly, for example through the KRIVAT system that serves public and private actors that are critical for safety. Additionally, a growing number of clients are interested in weather conditions briefings tailored to their needs.

Sami Lindberg, Executive Fire Officer at the City of Helsinki Rescue Department, emphasizes that functional cooperation with the Finnish Meteorological Institution is of primary importance from the viewpoint of operative actions both during the situations and for the development of preparedness.

“One of the features of the situations caused by weather phenomena is their wide range, which forces the rescue department to use extensive number of resources. A functional cooperation enables us at the rescue department to have the necessary extra resources ready, and we can ensure the effectiveness of operations,” Lindberg says. The Finnish Meteorological Institution has also involved the City of Helsinki Rescue Department in development of new tools.

Photo: Marko Happo / Warkauden lehti

The meteorologists on weather duty service monitor storms, thunders, floods, snowfall, forest fires and the sea water levels in Finland. Global monitoring targets also include volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tropical hurricanes and tsunamis. The system monitors even space weather, i.e., solar storms, that can at their worst cause serious disturbances in data communication and locationing systems.

The LUOVA warnings are made in cooperation: the Finnish Meteorological Institute is responsible for warning related to weather phenomena and sea water levels in the LUOVA system. The Institute of Seismology of University of Helsinki produces information on earthquakes and the Finnish Environment Institute on warning related to flooding waterbodies.

Ari-Juhani Punkka tells that the Finnish Meteorological Institute is also involved in the international, multidisciplinary ARISTOTLE consortium that shares many common principles with LUOVA. There is a group that focuses on dangerous weather in the consortium. It is lead in turns by the UK Met Office, Meteo France and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. The service is active 24/7, and its client is the ERCC, Emergency Response Coordination Center, that is connected to the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

An emergency warning reaches many people at once

The Finnish Meteorological Institute is one of the authorities that can issue emergency warnings. An emergency warning is issued if the lives, health or property of the population are in danger. The emergency warning is an effective means of reaching a large portion of the population. The Finnish Meteorological Institute last issued an emergency warning in connection with the storm Kiira in August 2017.

The threshold for issuing an emergency warning is rather high. When issuing an emergency warning, it is considered how many people are there in the hazard zone, and how susceptible are they to the danger.

Since autumn 2020, the Finnish Meteorological Institute has also had the opportunity to issue an official bulletin, which is less serious than the emergency warning. Even then, the Warning Map usually displays red warnings that indicate the most dangerous class. The first official bulletin was given for the storm Aila in September 2020.

Managing incidents requires practice

The Finnish Meteorological Institute mainly monitors dangerous situations related to the weather, but the Institute also has responsibilities related to, for example, radiation situations and maritime accidents. The latter ones are clearly more uncommon than storms, and a meteorologist might never encounter them on duty. Even these situations are still practiced regularly.

“Successful management of incidents requires continuous practice. We have set ourselves a practice calendar as part of our quality system in order to be spry enough in even the more uncommon situations. This way, a good preparedness practice is maintained almost on its own,” says Ari-Juhani Punkka, who has some on-duty shifts himself, and who is responsible for practicing for incidents at the Institute.

Successful management of incidents requires continuous practice.

Last December, a radiation practice could not have had a better timing: they happened to be practicing for a radiation accident the day before the incident at the Olkiluoto nuclear power plant. As they had practiced for the situation and the procedures were in order, they were quick to form a situational picture in the real situation. The situational management of the Finnish Meteorological Institute managed to gather in a virtual meeting room on a 30 to 45 minutes notice.

Luckily, the radiation situations have been rare, but storms and severe weather are yearly phenomena even here in the North. It is anticipated that the climate change strengthens extreme weather conditions, and we have to prepare for climate change even in Finland. The safety authority will not run out of work in the future.

Dangerous weather makes the weather duty service move

Dangerous weather interests the authorities – and the media.

Nina Karusto, Meteorologist at the Finnish Meteorological Institute’s Safety Weather Services, describes how when something happens with the weather, it makes the weather duty service move. The shift becomes busier, and the phones are ringing, as both authorities and the media crave for more information about the coming weather. If necessary, authorities are given extra briefings, and the general public is served by making media bulletins and by updating the website or Twitter.

“The LUOVA system was made especially for incidents. We create LUOVA texts during the shift and update them as the situation changes. Authorities can be offered video briefings on top of written forecasts,” Karusto explains.

The most hectic moments for a meteorologist are right before a storm or a snowstorm hits, when the authorities have the direst need for weather situation data. Luckily, weather phenomena can be anticipated relatively well, and they can usually start issuing warnings even days before the zero hour.

Karusto has worked as meteorologist in weather duty service around five years. She recalls an incident from a few winters back when they had forecasted heavy snowfall in Southern Finland. In the end, the snowfall was lighter than expected, but the elements of serious disturbances in transport, for example, were present. In the winter, the greatest challenges in weather forecasting are related to the amounts of snow and thus, anticipating the road conditions. During the winter, meteorologists work in close cooperation with road maintenance personnel. In the summer, challenges arise from the location and intensity of showers and thunders.

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