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Forecasting extreme weather to assist emergency services response in Tasmania

By meteorologist Alex Melitsis, Thursday April 8, 2021 - 00:25 EST
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Weather conditions can deteriorate quickly and dramatically, affecting emergency responses. - ABC

Tasmania experiences an amazing range of weather that can be beautiful or bleak. But occasionally, the weather can be very dangerous.

Extreme weather may occur at any time of year and can take the form of intense rain, major flooding, destructive winds, dangerous bushfire conditions and severe storms.

When extreme weather occurs, it can destroy infrastructure, disrupt the economy, and endanger lives.

To help mitigate this threat, the Bureau of Meteorology works closely with Tasmania's emergency services to not only discuss the threat of forecast extreme weather, but to also understand how it might impact our community.

To predict extreme weather, the Bureau's team of meteorologists and hydrologists in Hobart continually monitor the weather around Tasmania, and assess sophisticated computer weather models.

A huge range of weather model data are generated on the bureau's supercomputer each day.

These include very high-resolution models that can predict individual storm cells, 'mid-range' statistical models that predict the probability of extreme weather during the next two weeks, and longer-term climate models that forecast trends in extreme weather over the coming weeks and months.

Meteorologists constantly analyse these data to determine the likelihood of extreme weather striking Tasmania.

Bureau meteorologists and hydrologists then collaborate with Tasmanian emergency services such as the Tasmania Fire Service and State Emergency Service to discuss this information and support the critical decisions they need to make.

Every extreme weather event is unique and can result in very different dangers and impacts, so it is important that the bureau and emergency services work closely together to understand the potential impacts the forecast extreme weather may have on the community.

For example, during bushfire season, meteorologists and fire agency personnel meet weekly to examine the weather forecast for the coming two to three weeks.

We analyse the potential of weather that may influence bush fires during that period, like high temperatures, strong winds, wind changes, rainfall, and lightning, and discuss how this may affect fire agency operations.

Additionally, before days of significant fire danger, meteorologists and fire behaviour analysts meet to discuss the detailed meteorology of the day including the timing of wind changes, stability of the atmosphere and the potential effect on bushfire behaviour.

Other crucial information such as forecast uncertainty, alternate weather scenarios and worst-case scenarios are also assessed.

If a significant bushfire does occur, fire agency personnel can contact a dedicated fire-weather meteorologist to discuss the weather conditions at the fire ground, and the meteorologist will provide a specialised weather forecast for that bushfire. 

As each year passes, weather monitoring and computer modelling continues to improve, and meteorologists will have the ability to provide more detailed weather warnings with longer lead times.

And so, the focus will be less about 'what will the weather be' and more about 'what will the weather do', and how it will impact the community.

The Bureau of Meteorology and the Tasmania emergency services will continue to work together to ensure that improved weather forecasting will lead to a better understanding of the impacts of the weather, and result in better actions on the ground, so that the community is as safe and prepared as possible before extreme weather strikes.

Alex Melitsis is a forecaster with the Bureau of Meteorology


© ABC 2021

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