Sailor moves from the sea to Spaghetti Junction to keep motorists safe on West Midland motorways
When it comes to predicting the weather, it is something of a military operation for expert Kerry Farrell.
As a former Naval officer, Kerry joined National Highways in 2019 and swapped seafaring for Spaghetti Junction.
She is now working in the West Midlands as a National Highways network operations manager.
With record-breaking temperatures only a few months ago and winter operations well under way at National Highways, Kerry says she is relishing her role.
Her job is to keep an eye on the weather and its implications for motorists using the motorway network in the West Midlands, including the M6, M5, M54 and M42. That means keeping track of weather charts and highlighting the risk of ice or snow so that the road network can be treated in time.
Gritters have been out in some parts of the region for the first time this week, thanks to an incredibly mild autumn. But with the prospect of freezing temperatures to come, as well as risks like flash flooding, Kerry's role is considered key.
“I love the challenge of incident management in my current job it’s so incredibly varied and every day can be different and pose different challenges,” she said.
“When I left the Royal Navy, I wanted another role in operations and working for National Highways in the regional operations centre provided an opportunity for me to draw on my experience in meteorology while also helping to train colleagues around planning for winter weather.”
After graduating with a degree at the University of Derby in global hazards – a course which combined geology and geography – Kerry always knew she wanted to work in meteorology.
She served as a regular in the Royal Navy for 10 years, having joined in 2009 as an Able Seamen Hydrographer and Meteorologist.
She also spent time at the Naval air stations in Yeovilton and Culdrose as a weather forecaster, as well as numerous deployments at sea on destroyers and mine hunters in the Middle East.
In 2013, Kerry, who lives near Lichfield, achieved her commission, passing out of Britannia Royal Naval College as a warfare officer, subsequently gaining her ticket for driving warships and was promoted to lieutenant.
“I was attracted to the Royal Navy because they were the only uniformed military service to have an embedded weather forecaster working with them,” she added. “I really enjoyed my role as a warfare officer because it provided a mixture of challenges and I used to manage maritime operations and incident management at sea. I was also working as a weather forecaster, so I was able to use detailed information to help plan operations and make sure everything was planned down to the finest detail.
“It gave me some fantastic experience in leadership and operations, built my confidence hugely and travelling the world to see places you never ordinarily may visit on a holiday.
“My most interesting deployment was a global trip, sailing through the Panama Canal out to Hawaii, where I was fortunate to be involved in a Remembrance ceremony at the USS Arizona wreckage for those lost at Pearl Harbour. My last deployment was on survey ship HMS Scott in the Atlantic mapping the sea floor.”
Since joining National Highways at its office in Birmingham, Kerry says her operational and crisis management skills have stood her in good stead for keeping the road network moving.
She recently worked closely with the local authority and partners to plan for the Commonwealth Games which saw an influx of people using the Midlands motorway network, many of whom for the first time having travelled from overseas.
And her attentions are now focused solely on working with operational colleagues to ensure gritting and preparedness plans are in place to keep traffic moving when the mercury starts to drop over the coming weeks.
Kerry added: “Good communication skills are critical to my role at National Highways because we need to make sure that everyone is talking to one another. Whether it’s partners in the emergency services, other colleagues in regional control centres or even central government. Planning is also an important aspect of my role as I have the overall strategic picture of the network. That means making sure we know what is happening 24/7 with traffic flows and for instance when we expect major events to impact on the motorway or major A-road network, it’s important to start planning for these early on so that we can keep everyone moving.”
Away from work, Kerry says she likes to unwind by keeping fit and active and has recently re-joined the Navy cycling team as a veteran. She also spends a lot of her free time training for road cycling.
She added: “I’m quite sporty so I play a lot of golf and I’m also a keen runner. I recently completed Derby Half Marathon and I’ve also completed the Tamworth 10km race which was in October.
“One of the main perks of my role here is that I can predict when it’s going to rain, so when I do get up early for a game of golf, I can make sure I’ve got the waterproof clothing ready to go.”