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Launch of the Bureau of Meteorology's Kurnell Radar


DR SHARMAN STONE: Thank you very much, John.

Let me begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this country, this magnificent area in particular that we share with them and let begin by welcoming too, our international visitors and particular our two Greek visitors who are going to join with the Bureau of Meteorology in a tradition that was established a little while ago where they will, in a sense, take up the torch meteorological, having spent the period of the Olympics learning how our Australian Bureau of Meteorology does the task for forecasting for the Game and then they'll use that information to supplement what they'll be doing in the year 2004 in Greece.

So this is a very special occasion. It's as Dr John ZILLMAN said, part of the [inaudible] of the way we are dealing with the unknowable in forecasting in Australia and it's a particular challenge for our Australian meteorologists because we have a enormous continent with territories that extend right down to Antarctica as well, of course.

And while this continent has seasonal variations which go, of course, from the tropics right down to the goldfield regions - there's extraordinary seasonal variability within those distinct parts, so it's quite a different challenge for understanding climate in Australia and forecasting compared to say if you're had the same job in the UK or some other part of a smaller country, it's part of being here on a big continent.

The Bureau of Meteorology has been at it for a long time, the Australian service, one of the oldest government authorities that we have in this country and the colonial governments set about the task of setting up these sorts of authorities who measured the weather, pretty well too.

In my early days as an anthropologist I actually learned about weather forecasting from some of the traditional Aboriginal peoples in the Pitjinjarra country and they were very keen to pass on to me that we were amateurs in this. We've spent the last 220 or so years trying to work out how Australia's climate actually changes but over thousands of generations they've worked out the relationships between the bird migrations, the way the vegetation behaved, the way the seed set, in particular they looked at migratory bird species and local bird species and found the [inaudible] George Turner, he's dead now, but I have on tape lots of his information about how the traditional Australians worked out the seasonal patterns and the seasonal changes and oncoming very severe weather events.

Now, what we're celebrating here today is how the non-indigenous world has worked up new technologies to try and take some of the very educated guesses out of interpretation of information that comes through and we are, of course, today to commission the Doppler system of radar, the first up and working system, Doppler system, in Australia and you've got a picture of it over there on the screen, looking very, I think, space ageish and quite a quite a work of art too. It's shame the car is there - perhaps that's serves to give us a sense of the scale of the thing.

The Kurnell radar. Now, it's 15 kilometres south of the City, built at a cost of $1.25 million. The radar tower is 22 metres high and it allows a forecasting range of 150 kilometres. This Doppler radar is different to what we've had before with our, let's call it, previous radar systems, in that it can actually detect the speed of movement of reflecting particles both travelling towards and away from the radar itself.

And as someone explained, it's a bit like the noise of a train whistling past. You get a sense of it, it's coming towards you, it's moving away and you get a sense of the speed and the direction from, in the case of a moving train, the noise.

Under some conditions it will also detect the motion of air itself when there's no moisture, when it's a rain free period, you can actually set this Doppler radar to get reflections from the dust particles in the air so you can also get a sense of what sort of air movement there is, the direction of the severe weather event that's coming towards you from, if you like, the dust particles that are also going to be picked up. And at the end of this, we'll show you one of those pictures of what this radar actually looks like.

It's still requires, of course, very, very well-trained meteorologists to interpret that data. The Doppler radars have been used in the north of Canada for the last few years now and they are already reporting that they have noticeable improvements in their warnings of severe weather events like thunderstorms. So I can't wait, let me tell you, until we get one of these sorts of Doppler radar systems in the Goulburn and Murray valleys where the thunderstorms and the hailstorms take out our crops each year. It will be a very welcome addition.

You've also, of course, got this marvellous piece of technology in Sydney as a very appropriate location. We've mentioned the Olympics but it's not just the Olympics which have made this important that we commission this Doppler radar today. The worst, or I should say, the most costly damage ever done, ever recorded from a weather event in Australia, of course, was on 14th April 1999 here in Sydney, and the miracle was that no lives were lost, but remember that incredible hailstorm that literally put football sized dents in vehicles, it took off roofs in Sydney, in fact, every tiler in Australia descended on Sydney for about 12 months to try and replace the roofs.

Sydney has a history of some very severe and extreme weather events. Now, probably if the Doppler radar had been installed before April 1999 we couldn't have given people much satisfaction in doing much about the fact they had tiled roofs, in time, but maybe in the future if such an event was happening again, at least you had time to tell about quick, get into the safest part of your house, put your car under cover. It gives us that opportunity to do that, with that extra accuracy, that extra time that could in the future indeed save lives too.

Once we've got that information, of course, from our new Kurnell site, the forecasters have, they can work out the representations, they can see where individual storms are, their intensity and where they're going to move to.

The information can be disseminated quickly to the general public via the radio and television and, of course, we rely in the Bureau of Meteorology so much on the media, and it's pleasing to see the media with us today because they are partners so often in getting this information quickly out to the public in order to save property damage and lives.

Emergency service organisations too, of course, are critical in this. They take those messages and they put the messages into action. So the Doppler radar can help us with severe warnings but, of course, the next major event in the history of Australia is the Olympics coming up in just a few weeks' time and the Bureau of Meteorology has a very significant part to play in making sure that that event goes off with as little a hitch as possible that is related to weather.

As we know, Sydney in September often has quite variable weather but you can be sure the Bureau of Meteorology will be doing its very best and, indeed, a very excellent job, to make sure competitors and visitors to the Games know whether to take a sunhat or an umbrella and if it's the competitors, the Bureau will be tailoring its information to serve, in particular, six outdoor Olympic sites. That's at Rushcutters Bay to cover the sailing in Sydney Harbour and offshore; to Olympic Park, to cover athletics, hockey, tennis and archery; to the Penrith Lakes to cover canoeing, kayaking and rowing. I understand it will be an hourly basis, forecasting there. To Horsley Park, to Fairfield, Cecil Park, to cover equestrian and mountain bike competitions, shooting; to Bondi to cover beach volleyball and to the Aquilina Reserve, Blacktown for baseball and softball.

And if you're talking about all of those events, those sporting events it would be a great advantage to the players to know what sort of winds to expect on the day and indeed just the temperatures or the humidity.

I understand from the Bureau of Meteorology just a minute ago, that in fact some of the teams like the yachting will bring from overseas their own meteorological experts to interpret some of the data we give them so that's how serious weather is when it comes winning gold medals.

The special weather information for the Bureau is going to be made available to the public through the Bureau's Olympic weather support web site and if you don't already know, that's www.bom.gov.au/olympic and it's the first time such an extensive weather support web site's going to be available during an Olympic Games event. So again, Australia on the pushing the edge there in terms of making sure our public knows just how best to enjoy the weather on the day.

The Bureau of Meteorology staff will be strengthened by an additional 20 interstate forecasters to make sure that the Olympics have the very best and most thorough coverage possible.

And can I welcome here today too, our two Greek forecasters, I mentioned earlier on and John Zillman mentioned, Mr Yiannis Papageorgiou and Mr Dimitrios Xeokopoulos, who arrived, I understand, at about four o'clock this morning who are going to be understudying the Australian Bureau of Meteorology at the Olympic Games so they can take back some best practice and, I'm sure, build on that for the Greek Olympics in another four years' time.

A feature of the Olympic service will be the greater frequency of forecasts along with more maximum and minimum temperatures, predictions of temperature, rainfall, wind and humidity, about every three hours throughout the day and you can't get much better than that.

Let me, in concluding, before I officially commission this magnificent new Doppler radar, say that there are some very special organisations and people who have helped to make this structure possible. It includes the staff of Guttridge Haskins and Davies and Co, Colman Construction who were involved in the planning and construction of the building which looks pretty special to me, and I have yet to get out there. I'm looking forward to that very soon.

The Sydney Water Corporation who provided the site for the radar, the Sutherland Shire Council for assistance with planning and, of course, the staff of the Bureau of Meteorology themselves who, as always, give an extraordinarily dedicated service to Australia and I am very proud to be the Parliamentary Secretary who is responsible and looks after the Bureau in terms of ensuring the Government is responding to the needs of the Bureau into the future.

So with no further ado, it gives me enormous pleasure to commission the Doppler radar for the Kurnell site.

Commonwealth of Australia