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Watching the Skies

Watching the Skies

Gales, storms, clouds, rain and heat. The weather is a constant topic of conversation but continues to baffle most of us. So it’s comforting to know that, rain or shine, the employees of the Bureau of Meteorology are keeping islanders up to date on local conditions. Perhaps you have heard them on the radio, or seen their white-domed, two-storey workplace near the airport. But what really happens there?

Science writer David Ellyard believes that many people: …still see the weather as mysterious and arbitrary, and ridicule those who profess to understand it. That perhaps is why weather forecasters get such bad press, with their occasional (sometimes serious) lapses being trumpeted and their growing successes largely ignored… Unravelling the complexities of weather and climate remains one of the greatest challenges for science and technology today…

Living on Norfolk, where the weather can change rapidly and rainfall across the Island may differ wildly, the value of a modern, efficient meteorological service is obvious. But for pilots and sailors, the need for exact wind, cloud and tide information is essential.

The Norfolk Bureau of Meteorology Office is part of Australia’s far-flung network; from the Cocos Islands 2,750 kilometres from Western Australia, to Giles in the Red Centre (Australia’s arid interior) and down to Antarctic bases such as Casey and Mawson. There are 48 field offices, and hundreds of cooperative weather recording points. The Bureau has been monitoring and reporting weather since January 1908. Some weather records were kept in earlier days, but the founding of an Australia-wide organisation meant that scientific data could be collected, and analysed systematically and accurately, for the first time.

Rainfall was officially recorded at Kingston from 1890, but Norfolk’s first proper station opened just before WWII, in Burnt Pine and was later moved to Pine Avenue, the site of today’s airport. Teddy “Ike” Christian, a Norfolk islander, worked there but it was later staffed by the New Zealand army and meteorological personnel before joining Australia’s system in 1947. Some greeted the arrival of a meteorological office with a little disdain, remarking that “they had not noticed any improvement in the weather since it [the station] was installed.”

In the post-war era, three local men, Jimmy Olsson, Richard Bataille and Les Macrae, trained as weather observers and staffed the station, with additional officers coming from Australia. Some, like Bruce Griffiths, Steele Saunders and Barry Jones, would later retire here. A new office was opened in 1950 but this, in turn, was superseded by a more modern facility in 2003.

Today, with increasing automation, the station has fewer weather observers, and they are sent from Australia. Trevor Menadue and Adam Jauczius have held postings in remote places of Australia such as Giles, Lord Howe Island, Broome, Meekatharra, Forrest, Carnarvon, Eucla and Mawson, so they are used to living in small, isolated communities They spend their time watching the skies, monitoring Norfolk’s weather conditions, and using an array of equipment — from simple rain gauges and thermometers to weather balloons and radiosondes — to perform their work. They provide continual weather information to the Bureau in Sydney, airlines in Australia and New Zealand, and Norfolk’s radio, airport and community.

Image Credit: Robin Nisbet


Article content disclaimer: Article first published in 2899 Magazine V1 Iss3, 2009. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.


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