Cool jobs: Rebecca Jones

BP meteorologist Rebecca Jones’s weather forecasts become hot property in the colder months, when the organization’s gas traders at London’s Canary Wharf clamber to hear if the temperature is set to dive and, therefore, send gas demand rocketing. Read the lowdown on what makes her role so satisfying

How would you describe your role?

My main role is forecasting the temperatures across Europe for BP’s gas and power traders who are buying and selling daily. Many things can have an impact on gas demand, including the weather—when the temperature drops, demand rises as people turn on their central heating. If we can see a cold snap coming, ahead of the rest of the market, BP can make sure that we buy enough gas to sell later. This helps to ensure that there are enough gas supplies to fulfil our contracts if we think an extended winter might be on its way. As the business has evolved, BP also now trades power and renewables, so the questions I’m receiving are similarly changing to include things such as wind forecasts.

Tell us about a typical working day for you

It starts very early! In the UK, it’s the very cold weather rather than hot that affects gas demand, as we don’t have air conditioning in our homes. So, I get a lot more questions from the traders in the cold months and my job is a lot busier. I have to be prepared by 7am for traders to come to my desk, asking what the weather’s doing today and what the chances are of it being colder or warmer than I had predicted. It can be an intensive job, but you get used to it and, with experience, you know which questions to expect, so it’s easier to prepare.

Daily, I also produce reports that cover European temperatures, Asian temperatures, and wind and wave forecasts across the globe. During the course of each month, I look at a broader range of conditions, such as rainfall forecasts for South America, Spain and Italy, where hydropower is key. Rainfall is critical in many aspects of our business, from biofuel production through the growing season in South America to the monsoon season for its impact on construction in India, which uses diesel as a fuel, and in Germany, too, in case the Rhine river level drops too low and impedes transportation of fuels from the Continent.

What do you love about your job and what is the biggest misconception?

I get absolute job satisfaction from seeing my temperature predictions proved right, especially if I’ve gone out on a limb against what a weather model is predicting. There are two main weather models that forecast two weeks in advance—the European and the US—and it can be risky to trade on these alone without the help of a trained eye of a meteorologist who can explain the quirks and the limitations of each.

Sometimes, for example, the jet stream—the strong winds that move weather around the globe—is positioned incorrectly, which can mean the difference between warm, wet and windy weather and cooler, calmer weather in the winter months.

The role can be varied as well. This summer, I had been working with safety and operational risk (S&OR) on a project to look at how our assets and operations could be vulnerable to the impact of extreme weather conditions.

How did you become a meteorologist in an energy company?

My degree was in geography and I then chose to specialize in the weather. I was very interested in climate, but a lot of my post-graduate studies were in forecasting, so before joining BP, I forecast for the media, aviation industry, and highways agencies, but I do enjoy energy forecasting best. With aviation, you are forecasting the next six hours at each airport, so there are limited longer-term objectives. I like the longer-term side of energy forecasting.

Do you work alone?

I like that I sit next to my customers, the traders, but I’m the only meteorologist in Canary Wharf. My colleagues, Mike Fuori, Ed Bracken and Greg Stanko are based in Houston in the US and also work in forecasting for BP.

The team in Houston produces forecasts and briefings for BP traders and trade-floor analysts within IST and, significantly, also creates detailed forecasts and hazardous weather warnings for BP operations worldwide, both onshore and offshore.
From June to November, one of their main focuses is monitoring tropical disturbances, which could become hurricanes that impact our Gulf of Mexico or Trinidad and Tobago facilities. Or, forecasting conditions for our operations at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, where snow, bitter cold and strong winds can create ground blizzards that make travel nearly impossible. BP Lower 48 has operations spread across the US, making them vulnerable to a wide range of weather hazards, from heat and severe thunderstorms to ice storms, which require monitoring by the team.
BP’s operations in Iraq, Oman, Azerbaijan and Egypt all receive daily information, along with offshore operations in Angola, the Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of Suez and the North Sea, which rely on our analyses of winds and waves. Even BP’s wind farms get daily updates on the expected airstreams from the meteorologists.
Every day, the weather changes and it can bring a new challenge in a different part of the world. Operational constraints and the whims of Mother Nature can sometimes combine to make decisions on how to proceed rather testing. My colleagues and I work with the operations managers at BP assets to help them to understand and reduce the risks associated with hazardous weather so they can proceed with their jobs safely.

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