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BOM backs off promised review after claim late storm call 'not first' for Bureau of Meteorology, according to Brisbane City Council's Early Warning Network

FEELING HEAT: Weather Bureau Queensland
Regional Director Rob Webb.

EXPERTS say the weather bureau's failure to warn of the severity of a storm that pounded Brisbane last Saturday morning is "not an isolated event".

Early Warning Network, a weather watch service that sends messages to more than 65,000 residents for the Brisbane City Council, yesterday said its staff were becoming increasingly concerned about late warnings from the Bureau of Meteorology.

"This is far from an isolated occurrence," EWN alert operator Scott Anderson said. "The BOM did a good job for the rest of the weekend ... but that is not good enough.

"All the warning signs were there to issue a severe thunderstorm warning for this cell.

The bureau promised to review the events of last Saturday but last night reneged. The bureau's Queensland regional director Rob Webb said he and other staff would "have a chat about how they made their decisions and the warnings (that) were issued".

EWN sends SMS messages to more than 65,000 residents for Brisbane City Council and other local authorities. The service was launched after the super-cell storm which devastated The Gap and surrounding suburbs in November 2008.

EDITORIAL: Bureau's failures need explanation

Mr Anderson said warnings needed to be issued before storms reached severe tolerances. From now on, EWN would issue "potential storm alerts" as a heads-up, rather than a formal warning.

Mr Webb has defended his forecasters, saying the storm did not reach the parameters needed to trigger a severe storm warning - such as wind speed, hail and rain - until it was over the city.

STORM TRACKER: Tracking storm movements
across southeast Queensland on Saturday and Sunday.

He had no plans to change the parameters.

The bureau yesterday confirmed the deluge was a one in two to five-year rainfall event. Wind speeds peaked at 90km/h in Moreton Bay.

BOM's first specific warning of the storm that smashed inner Brisbane suburbs on Saturday morning was not issued until 20 minutes after it hit, despite other forecasters and amateurs spotting the severity well in advance.

The bureau said its more general warnings of severe storm activity for the region over several days leading up to the weekend's wild weather was "about the best you will ever get". "I'm still comfortable that (with) what we did over the course of the last week, very few people would have woken up in Brisbane on Saturday morning not knowing there was severe weather coming," Mr Webb said.

Premier Campbell Newman yesterday leapt to the bureau's defence, saying residents had ample warnings of the storm cells and should have been prepared.

"I think people need to give them a fair go," he said.

COMMENT: Things are going from bad to worse in the Brisbane Bureau of Meteorology. The Regional BOM Director Rob Webb had promised a  review of the decision on Saturday not to issue a storm warning despite the fact a major damaging storm event had already hit Ipswich on a 40km front and was moving quickly towards Brisbane. 

According to The Courier-Mail, Rob Webb has "reneged" on his promised review, opting instead to "have a chat about how they made their decisions and the warnings (that) were issued".  Is he for real?  BOM's own radar image at 10.12 am on Saturday clearly showed a massive storm to the west of Brisbane yet it took BOM another 38 minutes to issue an alert - after the storm had already wreaked havoc on the heart of Brisbane. 

Now, instead of having an all-encompassing review to see if BOM can do better in the future, Rob Webb will presumably be bringing in cream buns and doughnuts for a morning tea chit chat with the troops presumably to tell them that all's well in paradise and The Courier-Mail exposures of their performance will soon dry up.  The problem for Rob Webb is that he has put himself at the forefront of defending the indefensible and The Courier-Mail, the Early Warning Network, Facebook, Twitter and dozens of storm chasers and amateur meteorologists will continue to closely monitor his performance in a way no other BOM regional director in Australia has ever experienced.  One more slip and he can expect a deluge of criticism. Such is the power of the internet.

The main concern about Rob Webb is his about-face on this issue and his declaration there will be no change to the criteria used by his office to decide if a storm alert is to be issued.  This means that if exactly the same situation occurs this weekend as occurred last weekend, the Brisbane Bureau would NOT issue an alert to the people of Ipswich and Brisbane.  And therein lies the core of the problem.  If Rob Webb truly believes his office was 100% right in what they did by not issuing an alert last Saturday, then we can expect more of exactly the same in the future. 

Why can't Rob Webb learn from this situation?  Why can't he genuinely review all of the issues to see if BOM can do better in the future?  By continuing to declare "we got it right", Rob Webb seems to leave no scope for change or betterment.  And that is a real pity. Maybe he should bring along some humble pie to eat at the morning tea, as well as those cream buns and doughnuts!