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Climate for a Nation

Forecast: 1 January 1901

Climates of Opinion

Battling the Elements

Forecast: 1 January 2001



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Forecast: 1 January 2001

On the last day of the twentieth century, as Sydneysiders prepared for yet another fireworks spectacular, the weather threatened once again to intervene. 'A strong diagonal wind across the harbour would spoil the picture', worried the artistic director, 'the weather forecasts this year are not promising'.[53] The concerns may have been familiar, but much had changed in a hundred years. Anyone preparing to go to fireworks or the 'Journey of a Nation' parade, had access to a surfeit of up-to-date meteorological information: bulletins on radio, television, the internet, or even their mobile phone; not just forecasts either, but detailed climatic data, satellite photos and radar images of approaching storms.

The history of meteorology has been a history of collection, coordination and integration. The telegraph revolutionised forecasting in the nineteenth century, prompting increased cooperation between the Australian colonies, and leading ultimately to the establishment of the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology. Radio enabled the observation network to extend beyond Australia's shores, while aeroplanes provided access to the upper atmosphere. The realm of meteorology expanded, bureaucratically and geographically. As we watch the nightly weather forecasts on television now, we can see the weather moving across the country. Satellite images show the spirals of cyclones, the cloud band of an approaching front. All this superimposed over the familiar outline of the Australian continent. At last we see the big picture. Or do we?

In 1910, E. T. Quayle began to speculate on the relationship between monsoonal patterns to Australia's north and rainfall distribution across the continent.[54] Could the air pressure in Darwin tell you something about the possibility of rain in Victoria? Answers were a long time coming, and it was not until the 1980s that detailed analysis was able to confirm some of Quayle's correlations. He had been observing the workings of what we now call El Niņo, part of 'a global-scale system of ocean-atmosphere interaction'.[55] Major floods and droughts in Australia were no longer simply continental events, they were linked via ocean currents to conditions half a world away.

Since the Second World War, the focus of Australian meteorology has become increasingly international, both through participation in organisations such as the World Meteorological Organisation, and through a greater understanding of global systems like El Niņo.[56] Even as our knowledge of the continent increases, its boundaries blur. Perhaps the idea of an Australian climate is as much a construction as the nation itself.

People in Bright Sparcs - Quayle, Edwin Thomas

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