Jessica Sweeney

Chief Meteorologist

Maths, Physics

Jessica was the Chief Meteorologist for Land Rover BAR on its challenge for the 35th America's Cup. Orignally from Australia, she was responsible for looking at the weather to decide whether or not the team can go sailing and also deciding what conditions to set the boat up for, as well as giving the tactical picture. This means looking at how the day's weather is likely to pan out and the team's tactical response to it.

Briefly describe a typical day for you at the Land Rover BAR base.

By 5.30am I'm at my computer checking how the weather has developed overnight and what the latest models say. I issue the forecast by 7.00am and then head into work to give a weather briefing to sailors and management. This is where critical decisions are made based on the expected wind speeds: the plan for the day and also which daggerboards to fit to the boat. I give regular updates throughout the day and monitor the conditions closely from my computer and also looking out the window. Each small wind shift is significant to the sailors and I keep an eye out for gusts, thunderstorms and showers too! In the evening I give another weather forecast for the coming days.

What degree(s) did you study to end up in a role like yours?

BSc (Applied Mathematics and Physics) with First Class Honours in Applied Mathematics at University of Western Australia. BA (Political Science and Literature) at University of Western Australia. MSc (Atmosphere, Oceans and Climate) at University of Reading, UK.

Why do you think studying STEM subjects at school is important?

Maths gives you a toolbox for problem-solving in most aspects of life. It empowers you with critical thinking and a curious mind.

If you could do another job in STEM, what would it be?

Academic research in Southern Ocean meteorology.

Briefly describe what you thought of STEM subjects in school, and whether your opinion has changed now?

I loved maths and physics at school and because of this I was pushed towards studying engineering at university. After two years of engineering, I realised I didn't want to be an engineer and went back to science, maths and physics. I want to encourage people to study science if they love it. The jobs available are wide and varied, and the possibilities are endless.

What has been the highlight of your role so far?

I love seeing something in the computer models, forecasting it, and then a few hours later seeing the atmosphere do its thing in real life! It is very satisfying when I get it correct and the sailors are happy too. Also, I love just looking at the clouds, the fog, the rain - they are things of wonder and beauty.

What would be your advice for young people interested in pursuing a career in STEM?

Get a good grounding in mathematics and the world is your oyster.

Name a STEM topic or skill which you learnt at school that you still use in your current role, and how you apply it.

Maths for analysis, forecasting, writing code, and the way I think! Physics for understanding the wind through concepts of heat, momentum, moisture and turbulence.

Give us a fun fact about yourself.

I have sailed across the North Atlantic, South Atlantic and the North Pacific. My dream is to sail across the Indian Ocean from Cape Town into my home port of Fremantle.

And for bonus points, what's your best STEM joke?

I put my root beer in a square glass. Now it’s just beer.