Follow this site by email:

Weather bosses lose important forecast tool for sake of $100 - BOM Brisbane boss Rob Webb refuses to ask for more

VITAL DATA: A file picture of the release of a
Bureau of Meteorology hydrogen-filled weather balloon.

 WEATHER bureau bosses have robbed their forecasters of vital data-gathering flights by weather balloons to save less than $100.

The balloons, which record and transmit information on temperature, humidity and atmospheric pressure as they soar for kilometres, are a key tool when preparing forecasts.

They are considered especially important in stormy climates such as Queensland's, but in a cost-cutting move, the bureau has halved the number of weather balloons at 40 locations across Australia from two to one per day.

Seven of the sites are in Queensland, including Brisbane Airport.

The bureau's Queensland director Rob Webb admits data from a balloon could have helped forecasters to predict the intense storm cell that struck inner-Brisbane last Saturday morning.

The bureau has been criticised for not issuing a specific warning until 20 minutes after the storm hit, even though other forecasters had tipped the severity.

The bureau had launched an extra balloon on Friday night but a computer card failure meant vital temperature readings were lost.

Another launch was abandoned on Saturday morning.

Mr Webb said: ``I'm not going to say we would not have liked that extra information.''

He said it was ``not for me'' to request additional funding to restore the second daily flight.

A bureau spokeswoman yesterday would not say how much the cuts are saving the organisation's $323 million annual budget.

But The Courier-Mail has learned that each flight would cost less than $100 including the technical equipment and staff time.

In the absence of balloons, forecasters rely on data from the upper-atmosphere from sources such as planes.

The Federal Government allocated $4.8 million to recruit and train up to 40 meteorologists and flood forecasters around the country but cut $13 million from the bureau's overall budget this year.

Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability Don Farrell, who has responsibility for the bureau, has ruled out extra money to reintroduce second daily flights.

Senator Farrell said: ``Weather balloons are only one method of obtaining observations. The Bureau has winds and temperature measuring equipment on a large number of domestic aircraft, which provides a significant contribution to weather observations in the Brisbane region and nationally.''

He said other technology included the bureau's network of radars.

But industry experts say weather bureau flights were a small price to pay for the information they delivered.

Weather Channel forecaster Dick Whitaker said: ``Weather balloons are tremendously important. The information from weather balloon flights is very valuable especially in predicting storms.''

Weatherwatch meteorologist Don White said: ``Satellite imagery has improved but it's not the same as a weather balloon for finding out what's happening in the atmosphere at a a particular time in a particular location.''

Alistair Waters, deputy national president of the Community and Public Sector Union which represents Bureau staff, said: ``Certainly forecasters would prefer as many different mechanisms to gather information on climate conditions as possible. They would prefer more sources than less.''

Liberal Senator Sue Boyce told The Courier-Mail: ``It's not just about extra people but resourcing them so they can do the job in a way that keeps Queenslanders safe.

``It just seems crazy as we come into summer and given the sort of summers we've had recently that there would be cuts like this.''

And Greens Senator Larissa Waters said with climate change expected to bring more frequent and more intense severe weather ``we need a better resourced bureau''.

Farmers' group AgForce is also concerned.

``We wait to hear more detail of any cutbacks to the use of weather balloons, however (we) must point out that accurate and regular weather information is vital to running farm businesses,'' said a spokeswoman.

``Key decisions relating to day-to-day on farm activities including stock movement, irrigation, harvesting and crop treatments are based on regular and concise weather observations communicated to primary producers via the Bureau.

``Any reduction to weather services puts at risk best practice within our industry.''


COMMENT: The Courier-Mail reports BOM's Queensland director Rob Webb admits data from another balloon could have helped forecasters to predict the intense storm cell that struck inner-Brisbane last Saturday morning.  Mr Webb said: ``I'm not going to say we would not have liked that extra information'' and then he drops one of the biggest clangers of all time: He said it was "not for me'' to request additional funding to restore the second daily flight.

If it's not for you Rob, who the hell is it for?  You are the one complaining about the issue, you are one suggesting the extra resources would have been of benefit to your office but it's not for you to ask for additional funding!  You are supposed to be running an elite weather forecasting service.  If you don't have the full resources to undertake that role, you should be hammering the head office of the Bureau of Meteorology demanding those extra resources - day and night.  If there can be improvements in the way in which you and your staff do your job, you should be relentless in demanding additional funding. 

By saying it's "not for me" to do anything about it is clearly not the right way to go about solving this problem.  Rob: Get some testicular fortitude and demand what you need because it is your responsibility to do something about your funding shortfall.  Remember, God helps those who help themselves!