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Table of Contents

Memories of the Bureau, 1946 to 1962



J. W. Zillman Director of Meteorology
The Seven Stages in the Life and Career of Dr W. J. Gibbs
The Meteorological Legacy of Dr Gibbs
Dr Gibb's Career—An Appreciation


Chapter 1: The Warren Years, 1946 to 1950

Chapter 2: International Meteorology

Chapter 3: The Timcke Years, 1950 to 1955

Chapter 4: A Year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Chapter 5: The Dwyer Years, 1955 to 1962

Chapter 6: A Springboard for the Future

Appendix 1: References

Appendix 2: Reports, Papers, Manuscripts

Appendix 3: Milestones

Appendix 4: Acknowledgements

Appendix 5: Summary by H. N. Warren of the Operation of the Meteorological Section of Allied Air Headquarters, Brisbane, 1942–45



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Early in his career, Bill developed a special commitment to statistical rigour in the study of climate and a conviction that much greater benefits could be achieved from the informed use of existing climatological information. His concept of climate was framed in terms of the probability of occurrence of different types of weather rather than in terms of 'average weather' (a perspective not shared by his successor as Director of Meteorology!) and he became an ardent proponent of the use of percentiles, deciles and other non-parametric statistics rather than 'averages' for the description of climatic elements. He was instrumental in modernising the Australian climatological data bank and the Bureau's approach to climate analysis and, as Chairman of the WMO Executive Council Panel of Experts on Climate Change in the 1970s, became and remained one of the more cautious voices on the national and international scene on claims of impending climate change. More insightfully than any other figure of his time, he continually reminded both the professional and lay communities of the large inherent natural variability of climate.


In no area of national and international meteorology was Bill's impact and legacy greater than in his innovative approach to the definition and delineation of drought and his pioneering work in the establishment of the Australian Drought Watch System (based on rainfall deciles as drought indicators) which has been widely adopted around the world. Against sometimes strong opposition, he framed a coherent approach to the delineation of rainfall deficiencies in Australia which has enormously influenced the Australian approach to management of drought in the rural sector and which still remains the primary basis of Australia's drought monitoring system. Throughout his career, and even in retirement, he worked hard at building a greater understanding of drought processes in the community and in learned scientific circles as well as within the relevant constituent bodies of the World Meteorological Organization.

Water Resources Assessment

With the active support and personal involvement of the Minister for the Interior, the Hon Doug Anthony, Bill played a vital role in the early days of the Australian Water Resources Council (AWRC) in ensuring that the assessment and management of Australia's water resources was placed on a sound scientific basis. His insistence on full integration of the science of the hydrological cycle into the research program of the AWRC and his support for a major Bureau contribution to a coordinated approach to assembly of Australian water resources data contributed much to the outstanding achievements of the AWRC as a mechanism for effective Commonwealth-State cooperation in assessing and managing Australia's scarcest and most sensitive natural resource.

People in Bright Sparcs - Gibbs, William James (Bill)

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Gibbs, W. J. 1999 'A Very Special Family: Memories of the Bureau of Meteorology 1946 to 1962', Metarch Papers, No. 13 May 1999, Bureau of Meteorology

© Online Edition Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre and Bureau of Meteorology 2001
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher