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Table of Contents

Australian Meteorology through the 20th Century


The Origins of Australian Meteorology

Meteorology in the 20th Century
The Forecast for the First Parliament
The Meteorology Act 1906
The Birth of the Bureau
The Early Years
Meteorological Services for Civil Aviation
Meteorology at the Universities
The RAAF Meteorological Service
CSIR Meteorological Physics
The Meteorology Act 1955
Flood Warning
Long-range Forecasting
World Meteorological Centre, Melbourne
Regional Forecasting Centres
Global Weather Experiment
Research in the Bureau
Committees of Inquiry

The Weather and Climate of the Twentieth Century

The Great Weather and Climate Events of the Twentieth Century

A Century of Progress in Science and Service


Australian Meteorological Milestones of the 20th Century



Contact us

Meteorological Services for Civil Aviation

Major new requirements for meteorological services emerged with the rapid growth of civil aviation throughout the 1930s. Initially the services for aviation were supplied from the capital city Divisional Offices but, following the loss of the Southern Cloud and Kyeema due to weather, and the opening of the Imperial Airways Service in 1934, it was soon realised that a much expanded and improved weather service was required. The first meteorological office for purely aviation purposes was established in Darwin in 1934 to support the Empire Flying Boat route and, by 1939, the Bureau was operating a total of 23 aerodrome observing offices, including ten providing forecasts and briefing for pilots.

The arrangements for provision of weather services for civil aviation were to undergo many changes through the rest of the century, particularly following the establishment of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 1946. The extension of forecasting offices to more and more airports came to an end in the early 1970s with the consolidation of most of the Bureau's forecasting staff in capital city Regional Forecasting Centres, with only briefing and very short-term forecasting functions remaining at a few airports. This was later further centralised, mainly for cost-reduction reasons, in the early 1990s.

Meteorology at the Universities

Despite some useful work in a few geography departments, the Australian universities showed little interest in meteorology through the 1920s and 30s. In a report to the Prime Minister in 1937, the UK aviation expert H. E. Wimperis recommended, inter alia, the initiation of university research aimed at more accurate weather forecasting and improved understanding of the structure of the atmosphere. This led to Bureau funding for a small meteorological department at Melbourne University. The first Reader-in-Charge was the distinguished German polar scientist Dr Fritz Loewe, who provided inspiration to a generation of Bureau meteorologists from the late 1930s onwards. The Wimperis report was followed by a further report on meteorological research and training in the universities and the Bureau, by the then Director General of the UK Meteorological Office, Sir George Simpson.

Under Loewe, and subsequently Dr Uwe Radok, the Meteorology Department at Melbourne University played a leading role in the development of Australian Antarctic meteorology and glaciology, but struggled for recognition and critical mass. It did not achieve professorial status until 1980. With the departure of Dr Peter Schwerdtfeger to Adelaide and Professor Bill Budd to Hobart, Melbourne retained only a small, albeit productive, meteorological effort in the School of Earth Sciences, with Monash University emerging as the strongest Australian university in meteorological research and teaching during the 1970s and 80s. Initially, under the leadership of Professor Bruce Morton, it developed as a centre of excellence in geophysical fluid dynamics and a source of many of those who were to later assume important roles on the Australian meteorological scene. Significant university groups in meteorology also developed at Macquarie University (under Dr Edward Linacre and subsequently Professor Ann Henderson-Sellers), Murdoch University and the James Cook University of North Queensland.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - International Civil Aviation Organisation

People in Bright Sparcs - Henderson-Sellers, Ann; Loewe, Fritz; Wimperis, H. E.

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© Online Edition Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre and Bureau of Meteorology 2001
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