Go to top of page

Review by the CEO and Director of Meteorology

Dr Andrew Johnson, FTSE FAICD
Dr Andrew Johnson, FTSE FAICD

I am very pleased to present the Bureau’s achievements in 2019–20. In what has been a very challenging year for our nation, the Bureau has again delivered on our mission of providing trusted, reliable and responsive weather, water, climate and ocean services for Australia—all day, every day.

We have completed the third year of our Strategy 2017–2022. The Strategy is firmly focused on driving a step change in the impact and value we create for the Australian community. We remain on track to materially contribute to an increase in Australia’s economic prosperity, public safety, national security, environmental health and community well-being.

During 2019–20, we continued with four major transformation activities that are translating our strategic intent into action. We completed the Aviation Meteorological Services Transformation Program on schedule, on budget and on scope. This Program has delivered a more flexible, responsive and cost-effective service to Australia’s aviation industry.

Implementation of the Public Services Transformation Program is proceeding to plan, with the design and implementation on 1 July 2020 of a new operational structure and concept of operations. The transformation will continue for the next two years and will bring about a fundamental change to the way we work, enabling a single ‘one Bureau’ national operation, underpinned by excellent science and technology that delivers the outstanding products and services wherever the weather and community need us to be.

We completed the third year of a five-year program known as ROBUST which is ensuring the security, stability and resilience of our information and communication technology (ICT) systems and observing networks. The implementation of the Business Systems Transformation Program also commenced during the second half of 2019. The Program will uplift and streamline our Finance and Human Resources systems and processes over the next two years.

Many parts of Australia were affected by severe weather throughout the year. The thoughts of all Bureau staff are with those communities who have been adversely affected by the weather over the last 12 months.

The year 2019 was both the warmest and driest on record for Australia since consistent national temperature records began in 1910 and surpassed the previous record in 2013. The onset of a strong positive Indian Ocean Dipole and the breakdown in the Southern Hemisphere Polar Vortex in spring set the scene for costly and damaging drought and fire impacts across much of Australia. Leading into the 2019–20 bushfire season, much of Australia had experienced the worst drought on record (since 1900), with markedly low river flows, dry soil and vegetation across eastern Australia. The record warm and dry year was one of the key factors that influenced the fire conditions in large parts of the country over the summer. Extreme heatwaves impacted much of the country towards the end of December with reports of increased ambulance call outs, and on 18 December 2019 Australia saw its hottest, nationally averaged day on record.

Beginning in late winter, severe bushfires occurred in several States that lasted throughout spring and summer. In addition to the tragic loss of life, property and wildlife, smoke from bushfires impacted millions of people, particularly in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. The Bureau mobilised its national resources to help ensure the safety of communities across Australia who were seriously impacted by extreme fire conditions during December and January. I am immensely proud of the efforts of so many in the Bureau who worked tirelessly to support governments, industry and the wider community during this time of national emergency.

In other events, several strong cold fronts during August brought damaging winds to the southeast. Regrettably, a woman was killed when a branch struck her car in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges, and another woman was killed by a falling tree in Parkville, Melbourne. A further cold outbreak during early September affected the southeast, with a tornado reported in Victoria. Power was cut through parts of Sydney, and a storm may have contributed to the downing of a helicopter off the Newcastle coast, with five people onboard. A severe thunderstorm outbreak in southeast Queensland produced giant hail and heavy rainfall impacted heavily populated areas. Hail of up to 13 cm in diameter was reported and up to 29,000 homes were without power.

In January, Canberra was impacted by a severe hailstorm which caused widespread damage to cars, roofs and solar panels. More than 2000 calls for assistance were made to emergency services. Melbourne was also impacted by severe thunderstorms in late January. Insurance claims for these events exceeded $500 million. Multiple, consecutive days of heavy rainfall in February brought widespread flooding to southeast Queensland and eastern New South Wales. Sydney recorded its wettest four-day period since 1990, with 392 mm recorded; 835 mm was recorded at Tweed Heads over a 10-day period. This year also saw seven named cyclones, with three – Damien, Esther and Blake – making landfall and bringing extremely heavy rainfall and large areas of flooding to Western Australia.

An update to the BOM Weather app was launched in June, helping to ensure that the Bureau is not only keeping pace with the changing needs of our customers, but also enabling greater reach into Australian communities. The Bureau expanded its social media presence and continued its regular weekly agricultural forecast on the ABC television's Landline. We updated our weather webpage in August and sea surface temperature charts in October and introduced more climate outlooks, more often. We also had an increasing number of followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn and our blog which continued to be effective for promoting public-safety campaigns on the risks and impact of severe weather.

A new weather radar was commissioned at Rainbow in north-western Victoria in March and positive progress was made in the ongoing preparations for new radar facilities in northwest and southern Queensland, western New South Wales, and Mildura in Victoria. The Bureau also upgraded the existing Esperance radar in Western Australia, which now features Doppler wind and real-time rain information for the first time, enhancing the Bureau’s ability to monitor storm severity, fine-tune warnings during severe weather events and enable meteorologists to observe wind better than ever before.

We continued to strengthen our relationships with key partners. In December, a senior delegation from the UK Met Office visited the Bureau to discuss further opportunities for collaboration in the areas of services, science, systems, people and project management, on top of our long-standing relationship. This followed a visit by the Korean Meteorological Administration in November which focused on observation metrology and instrumentation. We also deepened engagement with the national security sector, including through the establishment of the National Security Meteorology Five Eyes Community of Practice to exchange information regarding national security issues.The Bureau is also serving as a delivery partner for the Australian Antarctic Division’s Davis Aerodrome Project.

New relationships were formed, and existing relationships deepened, with a number of industry customers. Collaborative testing of trial weather alert products was enabled through relationships with leading agricultural organisations such as Southern Farming Systems, MacKilllop Farm Management Group and NSW Local Land Services. We also worked with Powerlink and the Clean Energy Regulator on initiatives that will help the electricity industry to adapt to higher levels of renewable energy in the national electricity grid.

Our aviation meteorological services offering expanded to include new routes for major resources businesses, improving their access to worksites. We concluded an agreement with the Government of Timor Leste to maintain observing equipment and Dili Airport to support quality-assured Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts.

In the water domain we developed in partnership with Sydney Water a meteorological and soil moisture warning system that helps to target maintenance and remediation of pipe infrastructure. Our collaboration with Australian Bureau of Statistics has reduced the regulatory burden placed on water authorities by streamlining reporting requirements. We also commenced work on a Near Real-Time Water Reporting Portal that will significantly improve the timeliness and spatial resolution of water accounting in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Our relationship with Defence has continued to deepen at all levels. The Bureau is now supporting strategic decision-makers in key national security departments via a quarterly global seasonal outlook which identifies the potential impacts of adverse weather and climate on food security, refugee migration or conflict events. This information supports decision-makers to take appropriate interventions or be cued to national security concerns much earlier. The Bureau also worked with Defence aviation bases to institute weather alerts and related operating procedures that protect valuable aircraft and equipment and ensure the safety of personnel from ‘on tarmac’ events like hail and lightning strikes.

In April, we published our new Research and Development Plan which sets the direction for our investment in research and development over the next decade. We strengthened our relationship with the UK Met Office and other international partners. In June, our Chief Scientist and Group Executive of Science and Innovation, Dr Gilbert Brunet, was appointed as the inaugural Chair of a new Scientific Advisory Panel for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The Scientific Advisory Panel comprises 15 eminent international experts. It will act as a think tank, guiding the WMO on matters of weather, water and climate science and research, with a focus on bringing research and operations specialists together.

In line with the nation and the world, the Bureau has spent much of the second half of this year anticipating and responding to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our focus has always remained on ensuring our critical services continue to be delivered to the Australian community and that our staff are safe and well. Bureau staff were seconded to Services Australia to assist in its response to the unprecedented demand in claims driven by the adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been an extraordinary response from all staff across the Bureau to mobilise during this time of crisis and to manage their own personal challenges while at the same time delivering on our essential national mission. These demands have been especially acute for our teams based in Victoria and I would like to acknowledge with deep thanks their patience, persistence and resilience.

It remains a great privilege to lead an organisation that delivers critical services to our communities, governments and industries when it matters most. Throughout 2019–20, I have regularly received positive and constructive feedback from a wide range of our customers, partners and stakeholders, not only on the quality of our services and advice and the dedication and professionalism of our staff, but also our new service delivery methods, technologies and channels. This feedback will enable us to continually improve what we do. While the year ahead will undoubtedly present us with many challenges, we will re-dedicate our very considerable capabilities in the service of Australia.

Financial results

The Bureau reported an operating surplus of $32.1 million, excluding depreciation for 2019–20, against a budgeted operating surplus of $6.6 million. This surplus is largely due to external revenue used for capital assets and additional funding received from Government. After including depreciation, the operating result was a deficit of $84.9 million in 2019–20, compared to a deficit of $82.1 million in 2018–19. This deficit was expected, as the Bureau—like all Australian Government agencies—is not funded for depreciation, but instead receives a separate asset capital injection. After the impact of the asset revaluation, the Bureau recorded a total comprehensive loss of
$26.0 million.

Total revenue for 2019–20 was $338.2 million, of which $263.3 million was funded as appropriation from Government, and $74.9 million was related to own-source income and gains, primarily from the sales of goods and rendering of services and other income. Operating expenditure for 2019–20 was $423.1 million, primarily made up of employee costs (42 per cent), supplier costs (29 per cent) and asset-related operating costs which included depreciation and amortisation (28 per cent).

The Bureau manages a significant portfolio of non-financial assets with a written down value of $848.6 million, of which 86 per cent is identified as land and buildings, plant and equipment, and computer software. As part of our ongoing asset investment and replacement program, $203.7 million was invested in asset acquisition and construction in 2019–20, predominantly to support the delivery of customer services. Funding for capital investment was mostly provided by Government through departmental capital and equity-based funding. Other investments made by the Bureau were primarily funded from own-source revenue.

Outlook 2020–21

In 2020–21, we will continue to deliver our Strategy 2017–2022 and seek to drive a profound positive shift in the impact and value the Bureau provides for Australia, as we meet our customers’ increasing demands for personalised and customised delivery of weather, water, climate and oceans information to support their decision-making.

We will focus on the delivery of our major transformation programs for our public services and our underpinning business systems, and will continue to improve the security, stability and resilience of our ICT and observing systems to support reliable, ongoing operations. We will also continue our efforts to increase the efficient use of our resources, and investment in the skills and capabilities of our staff, to both enable the implementation of our Strategy and provide our people with satisfying and worthwhile careers.

In response to the ongoing disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue to ensure workplace health and safety risks are monitored and managed and that critical resources are available to maintain operations and essential service delivery to Australian communities.