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Wagga Wagga Meteorological Office
Monday 29 September 1997

Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald
Parliamentary Secretary to the
Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories

Thanks very much Pat, to you and to John Darnley the Weather Station Leader, and also to Dr Geoff Love, the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Meteorology, representing Dr John Zillman the Director and to Crs Ray Beddoe, Kevin Wales and Michael Georgiou from the Wagga Wagga City Council, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Well look on a day like today with weather like this you wouldn't think we'd need any weather facility in Wagga Wagga, it's just absolutely beautiful weather and if this is an indication of what it's normally like then you just need to issue a permanent year around forecast saying "absolutely beautiful" but obviously this tower here is meant to look after the forecasts in a wide range of places within 250 kilometres of this particular site.

I'm very pleased to be here today, not only because of the weather but it's much nicer to be here than in Canberra as a politician today. I was thinking with some yearning that when Pat mentioned the station on Norfolk Island I was thinking I might like to visit that one day but I think in this day and age perhaps Wagga Wagga is as far as I dare go.

But it is particularly good as well to see so many people from the Wagga Wagga district able to join in this commissioning ceremony. I understand that there is a lot on in town today and so it is particularly good to see you here.

For several years my Parliamentary colleagues, Tim Fischer and Lou Lieberman and Noel Hicks have taken a very personal interest in the development of this particular radar. They've recognised that the radar will improve the lead time for severe weather and flood forecasting in the region, and they all would have liked to have been here today but as I say with their parliamentary commitments, because Parliament is sitting today, it hasn't been possible for them.

Weather forecasting, as many of you would know is a relatively "new" science. The first forecast appeared in The London Times newspaper in the 1860's. In those days forecasters were ridiculed for having the audacity to attempt to forecast the future. Nowadays forecasters are of course ridiculed if they dare get it wrong!

History shows that it wasn't long before the community realised the enormous benefit of these forecasts and the demand has now increased to the point where weather forecasts are an integral part of our daily routine. In the case of agriculture, which is very big particularly in this area, it can be a factor that means the difference between having a successful year or suffering terrible losses. In aviation it can literally mean the difference between life and death.

The Bureau of Meteorology is constantly striving to improve its forecasting of weather extremes so that people can take appropriate measures to protect life, and minimise stock losses and damage to property and crops. And I am particularly pleased that our Government was in last years Budget able to commit an additional $5 million to arrest a run down in Bureau funding over previous years and that additional funding has enabled the Bureau to increase its capital works facilities for things like this radar. This radar that I am commissioning today will go a long way to assisting the Bureau in its important task of providing a better service.

The radar is a significant addition to the Bureau's weather monitoring capabilities in southern New South Wales. Until fairly recently there's been a sort of a gap in the measures that we had, and this radar will rectify that and will particularly improve severe warning and flood warning services in the Southwest Slopes and the Riverina weather forecast district.

Southern New South Wales again as you people would very much know, is affected by extremes of weather. Drought, floods, bushfires and severe thunderstorms are regular events in the region. Ten floods this century have reached or exceeded the major flood level in Wagga Wagga and whilst the highest recorded flood level in Wagga Wagga was back in 1844, the flood of 1974 caused millions of dollars damage in the valley with record flooding in other towns such as Narrandera, Carrathool, Darlington Point and Hay.

The Wagga Wagga radar will assist the monitoring of the major rain bands moving across southern New South Wales and this will enable the Bureau to provide more accurate estimates of the arrival times of these systems in locations in the Riverina and Southwest Slopes. Better information on the time of arrival of rain bands and wind changes associated with cold fronts will be particularly helpful to rural fire fighters and will allow them to more confidently implement fire fighting strategies.

The ability to monitor heavy rain well to the east of Wagga Wagga will be a major help is assessing the flood potential of the Murrumbidgee, a river that is prone to serious flooding. As residents of this area well know, when the Murrumbidgee reaches major flood levels there is significant rural disruption and stock losses, as well as risk of heavy capital and infrastructure losses in both rural and urban communities.

But the benefits don't stop there. The new radar will also give valuable assistance to the Canberra Meteorological Office in their forecasting for the ACT. So those of us who live, or in my case temporarily live, in Canberra will reap the benefits of the radar

But I understand that the radar's actually been working for two or three weeks now and it's a marvellous prospect, however it didn't predict the major (political) storm that hit Canberra last week!

In a country as vast as Australia, it is not an easy task to develop and maintain an extensive network of observations. While technology has allowed many functions to be automated, the equipment still needs to be maintained. In this regard I'd particularly like to commend the Bureau's Observations and Engineering Branch for their never ending efforts in installing and maintaining the radars, automatic weather stations and the Bureau's complicated computing and telecommunications network. These people are a very, very skilled group of people who do maintain our very complicated and complex equipment right throughout Australia. As well our Bureau Observers are often said to be the "quiet achievers" of the Bureau, their efforts largely go unnoticed to the public but without them there would be no data on which a forecast could be made.

The Bureau has some 50 plus Observing Offices right across Australia and its territories but the main bulk of readings are provided by volunteers, voluntary rainfall readers, a number of who I understand are with us today.

And again I would like to take this opportunity of thanking those many thousands of volunteers right across Australia who do give of their own time to provide the data readings that enable the Bureau to perform the tremendous service that it does. They do a particularly good job and in most cases they do it voluntarily.

Another advantage of this radar is the ability to track sever thunderstorms. Apart from very heavy rain, the damage done by large hail, strong winds and severe storms can be immense. The radar will provide vital information on location, movement and intensity of thunderstorms and will greatly improve the severe thunderstorm advice service to this region and will allow people to take actions to minimise loss or damage.

The final feature of this radar is its ability to track weather balloons automatically, and I understand we're going to set one off shortly. Currently this office tracks those balloons high into the atmosphere four times a day. Without getting too technical, the wind speed and direction at various levels is determined and used to create weather charts that provide information used by forecasters and airlines.

Although winds at ground level might only seem to be only a few kilometres per hour they can reach speeds of up to 200 kilometres per hour when you get right up high. And those variations in the wind often have a significant influence on our weather and they also give the airlines very much needed information on where the winds are at various heights. Clearly the airlines will use tail winds to their advantage or avoid very substantial headwinds and the wind information gathered from this new radar will be of particular benefit both to the large jets who fly across this area and also to the smaller aircraft operating on inland routes over South Eastern Australia.

I often think that the work the Bureau do in determining those upper level air directions is underrated. The cost saving to the airlines in finding out which way the winds are going up there has a significant impact upon the financial viability of the airlines and in turn on the whole national economy and its an area of work by the Bureau that I don't think sufficient economic notice is taken of.

Using radar to track weather balloons at Wagga Wagga is not a new task for this office. They have been doing it since 1965. However the fact that the new radar is largely automated will mean that the staff will be able to attend to other duties while the balloon flight is underway.

Besides being a principal observing office, the Bureau's Wagga Wagga Office is a meteorological information centre for the region. Staff are able to provide a wide range of climate and weather information by telephone, facsimile, letter and across the counter.

Just in finishing I would commend very much the Bureau staff who were responsible for the installation of the radar. John Darnley, the Officer-in-charge and his team here undertake observations from 3am in the morning to 10 or 11pm every night of the week, every day of the year and they do a tremendous job here in Wagga Wagga and they are to be congratulated.

I also want to express, while I have the opportunity, my and the Government's appreciation to all the agencies in this region who cooperate so closely with the Bureau in the community's interest. These include of course the Wagga Wagga City Council, the State Emergency Service, the Rural Fire Service, and the State Government Departments of Agriculture, Land and Water Conservation and of course in the Bureau, perhaps much more than we do in politics, we have a very, very close relationship with the media and again it's a relationship the people perhaps don't always think about and without the assistance of the local media all the readings we take, the data we collect and the observations we make, would never get across to the public so we do indeed thank the media for their part in this partnership of getting across weather readings and forecasts to the public.

Ladies and gentlemen thank you very much for coming today, again may I say it is a pleasure to be here and to be with you and to be able to thank you and I hope shortly to be able to thank some of you personally for your part in this.

It is now with very great pleasure that I formally commission the operation of the new Weather Radar here in Wagga Wagga.

Commonwealth of Australia