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Is Brisbane BOM chief Rob Webb answerable to anyone? - Apparently not!





 THE Federal Government was warned a year ago the Bureau of Meteorology was "at the limit of its human capacity" to provide an extreme weather forecasting and warning service.

But it has so far provided less than $5 million in this year's Budget to boost frontline staff numbers, which have fallen by almost 42 per cent in a decade, according to an Environment Department-commissioned review of the bureau.

It is not known if staffing levels were the reason the bureau failed to issue any specific warning about the freak storm that smashed into Brisbane's inner suburbs late morning on Saturday - but calls continued yesterday for a proper please-explain.

The front of Saturday's freak storm smashed into the inner northern suburbs about 10.30am. Twenty minutes later, the bureau issued its first specific storm warning.

By then the front of the storm had passed over the inner-western suburbs and the central business district and was almost at the coast.

The Courier-Mail yesterday contacted the bureau's Queensland regional director Rob Webb direct on his mobile phone, but he referred the inquiry to a spokeswoman - who first complained about having to work on the weekend - and then reissued a statement issued Saturday.



Lightning over Brisbane City from Ascot hill.
 

That statement said it was "difficult to predict in detail" what would happen with particular storm cells, and that the freak event had only started to show signs of severe storm characteristics as it approached the central business district.

It said: "The Bureau of Meteorology doesn't aim to issue warnings for every thunderstorm, but uses thresholds to ensure there isn't complacency in the community due to over-warning."

That threshold includes expected winds over 90km/h, hailstones bigger than 2cm, and very heavy rainfall.

Nevertheless, following the criticism of its lack of action on Saturday the bureau was in warning overdrive yesterday - issuing dozens of warnings throughout the day as storms rolled across the southeast.

Despite nobody from the bureau being willing to talk to The Courier-Mail yesterday, Dr Richard Wardle from the bureau managed to make himself available to speak on-camera to Channel 7 last night.

Dr Wardle said: "(On Saturday morning) we were tracking the system well out to the west and Darling Downs and it just - I won't use the word exploded - but it developed rapidly over a few minutes."

Ipswich city councillor Paul Tully accused the bureau of having been "asleep on the job" on Saturday morning. He had managed to warn of the storm on his Facebook page at 10.21am - nearly 30 minutes before the bureau's warning.

Other critics inundated the bureau's Facebook page on Saturday asking why there had been no warning until after the event. The bureau did not respond to their concerns.

Weatherwatch's Anthony Cornelius yesterday said it was "unfortunate" there had been no specific warning issued, and that he would have issued a warning when it hit Gatton, just before 10am." In my opinion there was definitely grounds for that storm to be warned," Mr Cornelius said.

Jeff Higgins from Higgins Storm Chasing said the bureau's strict adherence to its warning "threshold" made it difficult for residents to be alerted in time.

The bureau came under fire during last year's floods after it failed to issue a flood warning for the hardest-hit town of Grantham until 4.16pm, more than an hour after the disaster.
 
A second top priority flash flood warning came at 5pm.

Mr Cornelius, a meteorologist, had predicted devastating flash flooding hours earlier and at the time questioned why the bureau had failed to make a similar prediction.
 
 
19.11.12
 
COMMENT: What a disgraceful display by the Brisbane Weather Bureau in the past 2 days.  We're not talking about their monumental blunder in failing to issue a storm alert for Brisbane until the violent storm had already hit on Saturday morning.  No, the unacceptable display was 3-fold:
 
1.  The Queensland regional director Rob Webb refused to speak to The Courier-Mail who dodged their questions and referred The Courier-Mail to BOM's media people.  So much for accessibility, responsibility and accountability in a weekend of crisis.  Who does Rob Webb think he is?
 
2. When contacted by The Courier-Mail, BOM's media spokeswoman "first complained about having to work on the weekend - and then reissued a statement issued Saturday".  So much for her role as an active, helpful and enthusiastic BOM team member.
 
3. Yesterday, no one from BOM was available to speak to The Courier-Mail but Dr Richard Wardle arose like Lazarus on Channel 7 to wax lyrical on-camera about the storms over Brisbane and Ipswich.  So much for BOM working hand-in-hand with the local media in difficult times.
 
It was a truly appalling weekend for BOM's Brisbane office.  There needs to be a complete shake-up starting at the top.  BOM's Head Office needs to launch a full investigation into this gigantic stuff-up.  And Rob Webb needs some urgent media training in crisis management because his role in the future - following this debacle - will be under close and continuing scrutiny .