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Australian Meteorology through the 20th Century


The Origins of Australian Meteorology

Meteorology in the 20th Century

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
Observing the Structure and Behaviour of the Atmosphere
Radar and Satellite Meteorology
Numerical Weather Prediction
Modelling of Climate
Service to the Community


Australian Meteorological Milestones of the 20th Century



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A Century of Progress in Science and Service

The science and practice of meteorology have made enormous progress through the twentieth century, with very large benefits flowing to all nations, but especially to Australia, from the unique system of international cooperation in the collection and exchange of data and products and through a series of globally coordinated research programs aimed at improved understanding and prediction of weather and climate. The development of Australian meteorology is documented in such publications as Crowder (1995), Webb (1997) and the various annual and research reports of the Bureau and CSIRO. There has been great progress in several areas.

Observing the Structure and Behaviour of the Atmosphere

Australian meteorology in the twentieth century was magnificently served by a tradition of excellence in observational practices and high quality climate records inherited from its pioneers, but these were all simple measurements of quantities such as temperature, wind and rainfall or visual observations of weather, visibility and cloud. After early experiments with balloons and aircraft, a comprehensive upper air (rawinsonde) network for the measurement of temperature, humidity and wind speed up to 25km or more was progressively established from the mid 1940s onwards, and there are now 50 such stations, some automated. At the same time many surface observating stations have been replaced by automatic weather stations to provide information for both day-to-day weather forecasting and the long-term national climate record. These are complemented by many thousands of volunteer observers whose outstanding contribution to Australian meteorology is celebrated in 2001, the United Nations International Year of Volunteers.

Radar and Satellite Meteorology

Two major developments during the twentieth century greatly enhanced the capability for studying the three-dimensional structure of the atmosphere and monitoring individual weather systems. Weather radars were introduced into Australia during the 1950s and 60s and have revolutionised the detection and tracking of severe weather systems, including the tropical cyclones that threaten the northern coastline. The Australian weather radar network now consists of some 50 stations covering the capital cities and most of the tropical coastline.

The launch of the first weather satellites in the early 1960s and the special arrangements put in place for accessing their data enabled meteorologists for the first time to track reliably the major Southern Ocean synoptic systems which largely determine the weather across the southern States. By the close of the century, international weather satellites were providing continuous hour-by-hour monitoring of weather patterns over the entire Australian region as well as detailed vertical profiles of temperature and wind to complement and integrate the data from the surface-based rawinsonde network.

People in Bright Sparcs - Crowder, Robert Bernard

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