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Table of Contents

Memories of the Bureau, 1946 to 1962





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
Melbourne to Cambridge, Massachusetts
Long-range Forecasting
Synoptic Meteorology
Dynamic Meteorology I, II, III
Dynamic Meteorology IV
Physical Meteorology
Audrey Joins Me in Boston
Was it Worthwhile?

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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Long-range Forecasting

Hurd Willet lectured in long-range forecasting. A stocky man of medium height with a down-to-earth style of lecturing, he did not present the image of a university professor. His lectures were informative and stimulating. For me his course opened up new vistas in meteorology, particularly of climate change and the problems in making long-range forecasts.

He emphasised that a vastly better understanding of how the atmosphere worked would be required before accurate long-range forecasts could be made. According to my notes he began his first lecture with the statement "a question that is sometimes raised concerns the justification for the assumption that the general circulation of the atmosphere is organised. If there is no organised system then there is no hope for long-range forecasting".

It seemed that Willet used the term 'organised' to describe an atmosphere in which a given initial state would be uniquely followed by a specific sequence over a period of months.

Many years later I read the papers of the UK's G. D. Robinson in the 1960s and those of Ed Lorenz of the US in the 1970s on predictability. These papers suggested that the limited 'memory' of the atmosphere would make it unlikely that accurate predictions of the state of the atmosphere could be made for more than a week or two ahead.

If there is randomness in the input of energy into the atmosphere it would seem impossible to make accurate long-range forecasts for more than a week to 10 days. But the demand for long-range forecasts is so great that there will always be efforts to make such predictions. Many have been made, but even with the dramatic scientific and technological advances in recent years few long-range forecasts have shown sufficient skill and precision to be practically useful.

Willet's lectures were invaluable in their breadth of vision and their emphasis on the gaps in the state of knowledge of the atmosphere at that time. I wonder whether, in these days of ready responses by scientists to the questions of media interviewers, more caution and less dogma would be desirable in scientists' replies.

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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
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