Looking At The Weather: An Interview With Mark Neal

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As the clocks go forward and “Summer Time” begins, you cannot have failed to miss, or even been impacted by, the horrendous flooding that soaked the country this winter. With the Somerset Levels virtually destroyed, parts of the UK still submerged under the flood waters, stubbornly refusing to draining after after wettest winter on record, and the UN announcing that unless we as a species do something to physically change our impact on the planet’s climate we will face catastrophic consequences it seemed an apt time to introduce a new section to the site.

Mark Neal is a young, enthusiastic hot air balloonist who have a keen interest and passion in all things meteorological. He has agreed to write a column for the website to try and give you all an insight into our weather, the patterns that affect and govern when you get to have a BBQ and you never know, maybe even the odd forecast!

So, it seemed to make sense to sit down, have a chat and let him introduce himself in his own words…

  • I first met you through Hot Air Ballooning, so tell me how did you get into it?

As a youngster my Dad took me to the Oxford Balloon Fiesta. In 2000 as a family we attended Northampton Balloon Festival held at the old race-course and where we lived in Oxford City Centre, we regularly saw balloons launch for pleasure flights from the City Parks. From there grew a fascination with balloons, the shapes and sizes of these “monsters of the sky” got me gripped. As a result, we found out about more events and by 2004-2005 my family were attending 5-6 festivals a year: Basingstoke, Oxford, Southampton, Bristol, Northampton etc.. By 2006 I joined the local balloon club the 3-4-40 and decided to get involved with crewing and since then I have become friends with many balloonists, crew members and am actively involved these days.

  • You obviously have a love of meteorology, was that a passion born out of ballooning or have you always been interested in it?

My passion for meteorology has only been quite recent, as I have learned more about ballooning, I have tended to look at weather sites and watch weather forecasts more closely. Watching weather conditions and patterns can tell you a lot of things so in the last 6 years I have really loved the different sides of the weather and how it can affect us and our daily lives. Over the last 3 years I have gone a bit further and started to view weather models and chart analysis which shows us different outcomes of weather expected in the coming weeks and months.

  • Do you prefer generalised day to day forecasting or the more specialised long term pattern/prediction stuff?

It’s a close one. I enjoy looking at the coming days ahead and looking at things like wind speed, rain risk and even what temperatures we can expect by looking at orientation of high pressure and which way our wind is coming from. Though in recent times I really enjoy looking at the long range forecasts and to look at what the CFS (long range climate model) is throwing up for seasonal predictions which in recent memory have been a lot more accurate as a lot more technology is now going into this area.

  • Is meteorology a career path you are looking into or simply a spare time hobby?

I see it as a hobby really. As much as it would be lovely to be earning money and working with weather full time, I see it as a very stressful job and if weather forecasts go wrong the public aren’t very forgiving and have long memories! It’s a hobby I love looking at and it links in with ballooning very nicely. During the winter months I chase snow and cold weather charts and sign up to weather forums where all us geeks [his words not mine!] gather to talk about what the models are showing and interpret our views.

  • Now, there is nothing quite as spectacular or powerful as a thunderstorm but which do you prefer: the thunder or the lightning?

I love a good storm! I would have to say the thunder, I know many people shudder at the thought of the thunder but for me I love the sound. Its nature’s way of showing its angry and with hailstones falling can show that the weather is rather disturbed. The best storms are where you see torrential rain, flash lightning and rumbles of thunder. I was at a football match recently where the lightning hit the stadium roof which wasn’t pretty!

  • Since you mention football, let’s move away from the weather for a bit. You are a big fan of Oxford City Football Club, sadly it looks like you’ll be relegated this year from the Conference North league – can you ever see a time when the club will be promoted to the football league – after all, it’s only a couple of leagues away!?

Possibly in the future, but will take time. You can’t expect to click your fingers and go all gung-ho to try and get there. The financial effects could be negative for the club. The club has had 3 promotions in 8 years so we’re building slowly and positively. The great thing about the club is that everyone is in it together, the manager gets a fair chance and has never really been under huge pressure until now. Last year was our highest ever playing position in the football league “pyramid” and we finished a respectable mid table. This year has been a different story. A mixture of injuries at start of the season and bad luck have left us in a relegation fight since about October. Our results have been no-where near our best and the teams in our league have simply been better. With 12 games to go and four games in hand over a lot of other teams we need to start going on a run, I think we will scrape survival and hopefully we get put in Conference South next year and not North!

  • As a child of the “noughties” you only know the modern digital world so-to-speak, so which is better Xbox or Playstation!?

It’s a hard one as a child I spent a lot of time playing on Playstation and then got the Playstation 2. A few years back I decided it was time to upgrade and went for an Xbox. As time has gone on I have to say graphics have improved dramatically which helps for a very good gaming experience. I love racing games and football games so the Xbox now allows me to play mates and other online users in game,s which obviously, 10 years ago would have been unheard of. I would have to say Xbox is better, though it is a close call. The PS1/2 was something I played as a child and has a real nostalgic feel about it.

  • Recently my blog has become saturated with film reviews, so very easily, what’s your favourite film?

It’s a tough one really there’s a few films like I love but one which I have watched several times and I just love for the comedy is Hot Fuzz. Films like Lord Of Rings, Harry Potter are up there as well. The horror genre of films is also a favourite of mine; Scary Movie trilogy is also a great set of films. I have to say reading through your blog Chris, there are a few I am interested in watching now.

  • They say everyone has one, so do you have a party trick and if so, what is it?

I’m not great at magic nor doing tricks if I’m being honest. Closest I come to a party trick is the short supply it takes of drink before I start to get tipsy, not much really, surely that counts!?

  • And finally, what 3 things could you not possibly live without?

Football – I live and breathe football as I mentioned I support my local team and attend every game. If there is a match on TV I will be willing to watch it just like many people out there. So if football went my life would certainly be a lot worse off as result.

Ipad – My ipad is brilliant, everywhere I go I can access the internet thanks to the improved 3G service and the 4G service now rolling out. It is good as I can speak with friends through Facebook, Twitter and Instragram while on the move and have access to thousands of apps from the app store. It also has a decent camera which comes in handy for taking weather photos and when I go ballooning.

The most important though would have to be family. Without family I think anyone’s live would be a sad place, so I am lucky to have a family that live very close thankfully.

Posted on by 5WC in Interview, Weather First Edition

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