THE WEATHER WATCHERS:
100 YEARS OF THE BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY
Australia's capricious climate has tested its inhabitants for centuries. For a colony of farmers, knowing what the weather might bring was a matter of great moment. But the small band of colonial meteorologists were hampered until telegraphed observations suddenly gave them the means to make rough predictions about the coming weather. The founding of the Bureau of Meteorology in 1907 brought a new rigour to the work of meteorologists. Yet it remained a Cinderella organization until the advent of regular air services in the 1930s doubled its size and boosted the scope of its operations.
The Bureau more than doubled again when it became a vital part of the nation's defence effort in the Second World War. Despite the important roles it played, the limits of the science, rudimentary technology and budgetary restrictions combined to make the Bureau regular object of derision. That gradually changed as the introduction of radar, satellites and computers, and the growing understanding of meteorological science, allowed the Bureau to make confident weather predictions several days in advance and even of the climate for coming seasons.
Today the Bureau of Meteorology operates the most popular government website, providing real-time radar and satellite data, as well as forecasts and warnings of events, from cyclones and bushfires to floods and droughts. It also has one of the nation's most advanced computers, gathering data on a global scale and running numerical models of the earth-atmosphere-ocean system to produce daily forecasts and research into the complex issue of climate change. Part institutional history, part drama and part natural history, The Weather Watchers is a gripping story of the Bureau of Meteorology, and the significant and often colourful figures who have been part of the Bureau since its inception 100 years ago.