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National Forecast Services

Goal: Leverage our knowledge and insight to contribute to zero lives lost through natural hazards and increase social and economic benefits by $1 billion to all Australians by 2022.

The National Forecast Services Group focuses on the delivery of weather, climate, water and ocean (including marine) services to enhance value and impact for the general public and emergency services customers. It also develops and delivers the Bureau’s core meteorological, climatological, hydrological, oceanographic and front-line communication expertise across all sectors, and supports Business Solutions Group in achieving its stated outcomes.

The Group’s services span the breadth of Australia, its territories and oceans and are delivered in a tiered approach with national context typically derived centrally and tailored locally.

For 2019–20, the Group consisted of four Programs with the following responsibilities:

Community Forecasts

National services to the general public including climate services, oceans services and water forecast services

National policy, planning and quality management for weather, climate, oceans and marine services

Understanding community needs

Public Safety

Services for flood, thunderstorms, severe weather, fire, cyclones, tsunami and drought

Multi-hazard warning system

Emergency services sector liaison

National Operations

Day-to-day service delivery

Consistent integrated national forecast service

Operation through the National Operations Centre and State and Territory-based forecasting centres

Community Outreach

Engagement with the Australian community

State media and issues management

Marketing and campaigns

Public education

Social media and video

Media and graphic design

Customer service centre

Throughout 2019–20, the National Forecast Services Group focused on the delivery of three outcomes that support the delivery of the Bureau’s Strategy and purpose. The Group’s achievement in delivering each of these outcomes is discussed below.

Outcome 1: A systematic and enduring capability to strengthen partnerships and understand customer needs, which we will translate into improved services.

Achieving the outcome

Hazards Services Forum strengthening emergency management relationships

The Bureau of Meteorology Hazards Services Forum Task Team met twice this year to progress the standardisation of Bureau services with actions endorsed out of session by the Senior Officers. Notably, the Forum has agreed to progress seven actions relating to potential fire behaviour under the Australian Fire Danger Rating System (AFDRS) project (see highlight below), and to close an action relating to the already consistent severe weather services to the Australian Government Crisis Coordination Centre. The Forum, co-chaired by Emergency Management Australia and comprised of representatives from national, State and Territory emergency services, consistently demonstrates the productive and close working relationship between the Bureau and our partners in this important sector.

Applying customer feedback to improve boating and marine services

In response to feedback from key marine safety partners in Tasmania, and following endorsement through the Hazard Services Forum, the Bureau standardised the wind warnings issued for major lakes in Tasmania. This will improve clarity for the boating community without losing the detailed, localised forecast information on which lake users rely.

Following consultation with its marine safety partners, the Bureau improved the wording of the standard safety phrase included in all marine forecasts and warnings. The improvement aims to help boaters understand that wind gusts and wave heights may be more extreme than the averages listed in the forecast. Marine users are advised to be prepared for maximum waves twice the forecast height and wind gusts 40 per cent stronger than the forecast, stronger still in squalls and thunderstorms.

More than 17000 weather and ocean warnings issued

Improving shared understanding of thunderstorm asthma

The Bureau continued to work closely with the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services and other partners to better understand the phenomena known as thunderstorm asthma. Verification of results from an early warning system pilot, has shown the system is making significant contributions to the academic, technical, and practical understanding of thunderstorm asthma. The pilot has been renewed for the 2020 pollen season.

Understanding flood information needs across Australia

Bureau hydrologists worked side by side with staff from the Western Australian Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) staff in the State Operations Centre to better understand and support flood management requirements. A Bureau senior hydrologist worked alongside DFES staff in the lead up and throughout the State's 2019–20 wet season which included flooding associated with tropical cyclones Damien, Esther and Blake. The Bureau also assisted DFES through education, insights and the development of a statewide flood intelligence project, in partnership with all relevant State water agencies.

Bureau staff with their DFES colleagues in the Western Australian State Operations Centre.
Bureau staff with their DFES colleagues in the Western Australian State Operations Centre.

In Queensland, the collaborative development of a new communications protocol for the Paradise Dam is providing enhanced community safety and emergency response to flooding in the lower Burnett River catchment. The protocol outlines a new phased approach to operational communication that was tested in exercises in late 2019 by teams from the Bureau and its emergency response partners, and then further practised in operations in February.

Under its multi-year flood supplementary services delivery project, the Bureau continued to work with the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Victorian councils, catchment management authorities, the Victorian State Emergency Service and local communities, to deliver an excellent flood warning service and community education program for at-risk communities across Victoria. In February, the Bureau hosted Victoria's Catchment Management Authorities Flood Plain Management Forum focusing on the Bureau's weather and flood services and the Total Flood Warning System in Victoria. Attendees welcomed the opportunity to interact with Bureau experts and gain better insight into flood warning operations.

Improving flood services through a national approach

In August, the Australia-New Zealand Emergency Management Committee (ANZEMC) endorsed the National Framework for Flood Warning Infrastructure and the Flood Warning Infrastructure Standard developed by the National Flood Warning Infrastructure Working Group, chaired by the Bureau. The Framework provides guidance for future flood warning infrastructure planning and investment, based on jurisdictional analyses of their flood warning infrastructure.

Continuing tsunami partnerships

In March, the Bureau and Geoscience Australia renewed the five-year strategic agreement to operate the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre (JATWC) that provides around-the-clock earthquake and tsunami detection, early warning, and advisory services for Australia and the Indian Ocean.

Australian Tropical Cyclone Advisory Group

A new advisory body was formed in December to support tropical cyclone Hazard Management Agencies across northern Australia and the Bureau in mitigating the hazards caused by tropical cyclones. The Australian Tropical Cyclone Advisory Group provides a forum to share learning and to coordinate public education, tropical cyclone services and tropical cyclone warning processes across relevant agencies, the Bureau and emergency broadcasters.

Highlights and significant events

Participating in the Royal Commission to improve emergency response

A Royal Commission into Australia's National Natural Disaster Arrangements was established following Australia's devastating 'Black Summer' bushfires. As a key agency supporting Australia's emergency response and recovery, the Bureau provided evidence to the Commissioners regarding climate drivers and context, and technical and operational contributions to emergency management.

As the opening witness to the Commission, the Bureau provided a comprehensive high-level summary of the climate drivers behind the conditions leading up to 'Black Summer', demonstrating the importance of climate conditions in determining bushfire potential and the significant impacts of the Bureau's climate work.

Number of days that Australian area-averaged mean temperatures were in the warmest 1 per cent of records.
Number of days that Australian area-averaged mean temperatures were in the warmest 1 per cent of records.

On day six, the Bureau outlined its role in resilience-building, mitigation activities, communication, and real-time support for the Bureau's emergency management partners. The Commissioners were particularly interested in the Bureau's work to make hazard services nationally consistent and its operational role during peak events. The Bureau highlighted its integral role before, during, and after emergencies, and the Bureau's agility and commitment to its partners and the community.

Since the devastating 2019–20 warm season, the Bureau has also made significant contributions to the Independent Review into South Australia's 2019-20 Bushfire Season, the New South Wales Independent Bushfire Inquiry, the Victorian Inspector General of Emergency Management Inquiry, the Senate Committee Inquiry into Lessons to be learned in relation the Australian bushfire season 2019-20 and numerous coronial inquest processes. The Bureau has identified opportunities to further strengthen Australia's national response to natural hazards and improve community outcomes. The outcomes and recommendations of the Royal Commission are due in August 2020, with other inquiries and reviews to follow.

An ensemble flood forecasting pilot for the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley

The Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley has a long history of widespread and disastrous flooding and poses the highest unmitigated flood risk in Australia due to its unique geography and large population. There is a heavy reliance on the road network for vehicle-based evacuation; however, many critical roads are cut off before flooding reaches populated areas. Traditional flood forecasts based on observed rainfall and upstream water levels may not provide the lead time needed to evacuate the people impacted by a large flood.

To meet this challenge, and give the emergency services the warning lead time they need, the Bureau developed an ensemble flood forecasting capability in partnership with its partners and stakeholders. By harnessing the expertise of the Bureau's experienced flood forecasters with highly skilled emergency responders, new co-designed products have been developed, including extended lead time flood forecasts based on a blend of real-time radar observations with numerical weather prediction model outputs. New ways of displaying flood forecasts were also developed for the New South Wales SES to interpret the information to take effective action.

Training and flood simulation exercises for the pilot service were conducted with emergency management partners to enable the new service to be integrated into decision-making processes and operations.

A map showing sites in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley that support flood warning activities including official forecast locations (light blue), information locations (dark blue) and data locations (yellow).
A map showing sites in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley that support flood warning activities including official forecast locations (light blue), information locations (dark blue) and data locations (yellow).

Next steps

Key activities to be delivered in 2020–21 to help achieve Outcome 1 include:

  • building customer engagement and communication competencies for staff in decision support roles;
  • establishing new risk and resilience services and a decision support presence; and
  • enhancing community recognition of the Bureau's role as a trusted source of weather, water and climate information.

Outcome 2: A service of global standing, built on world-class science and technology, national expertise and local insight.

Achieving the outcome

Increasing access to flood warning data

The Bureau commenced a new Flood Data System in June, providing customers and partners with access to 15-minute updates of rain and river gauge data for each State, Territory or for the nation. The system allows users to incorporate the data directly into their systems allowing for more optimal solutions to their needs and improved flood intelligence to better manage the impacts associated with rain, river flows and flooding.

More than 1700 flood warnings issued

Uplifting the climate watch for the nation

The Bureau's Climate Service monitors Australia's climate and produces forecasts of expected conditions in the weeks and months ahead. In the past year there has been a continuing uplift of the Bureau's underpinning climate data and modelling capability, including substantial updates to climate (long-range) forecasts and continued refinement of services. Building on the new ACCESS-S model, multi-week forecasts were introduced in August, while the frequency of forecast updates for monthly and seasonal outlooks was increased to once per week. These changes resulted in a large increase in the public uptake of climate forecasts, increasing by more than 300 per cent. These services were particularly welcome during the past year that has seen some of the most extreme climatic conditions on the last century, including Australia's hottest and driest year on record, and record fire danger in eastern states.

Implementing a national forecast production system

The Bureau's primary weather forecast production system—the Graphical Forecast Editor (GFE)—was initially developed at a regional scale for each State and Territory regional forecasting centre. As part of the Bureau's Public Services Transformation Program, GFE is being transformed to enable the forecasting of a range of weather elements nationally for the first time. The new Gridded Operational Consensus Forecast (GOCF) supports public weather forecasts that will be more accurate, timely and simpler to produce and enable earlier delivery of guidance to the Bureau's meteorologists via the GFE. The GOCF produces best-practice gridded basic guidance for weather parameters such as temperature, rainfall, dew point, mean sea-level pressure, wind speed and wind direction over Australia. It uses statistical post-processing and machine learning techniques to correct biases in, add detail to, and combine numerical weather prediction (NWP) outputs from the Bureau's ACCESS models and international global NWP models. The GOCF will enable forecasters to focus on activities that make best use of their knowledge, skills and insights.

The national GFE functionality will be increased during 2020–21.

The national GFE displaying forecast wind speed and direction and 24-hour rainfall amount.
The national GFE displaying forecast wind speed and direction and 24-hour rainfall amount.

Establishing an improved Fire Danger Rating System for Australia

The Australian Fire Danger Rating System (AFDRS) project is focused on developing and implementing a national fire danger rating system to better describe the overall fire danger and risk to firefighters, land managers, government, utilities, businesses and the community. Over the past 12 months, the Bureau has been involved in extensive consultation with key stakeholders around product development and has commenced sections of the system build. The AFDRS will include a set of longer-term seasonal products that will help emergency services plan for the months ahead and ensure the provision of a seamless service encompassing weather and climate timescales.

Delivering better insights on sea surface temperatures

The Bureau's operational ocean forecast model OceanMAPS was upgraded in May. The new version uses the surface-forcing generated by the Bureau's latest ACCESS numerical weather prediction model suite and includes a more advanced formulation of surface fluxes and an updated data assimilation system. Verification results indicate that these enhancements resulted in an 8–10 per cent improvement in forecast skill relative to the current operational system for sea surface temperature fields.

The Bureau's operational daily regional and global sea surface temperature analyses were upgraded in November and April respectively to ingest new data streams from NOAA-20 and Suomi-NPP satellites. These analyses provide boundary conditions for several ACCESS models covering the global and regional domains, and are used by systems for tropical cyclone and seasonal prediction. The upgraded global product is now one of the most accurate operational near real-time sea surface temperature analysis systems worldwide.

Reducing illness and lives lost from heatwave

In collaboration with the Department of Health, Geoscience Australia, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the Bureau led the Reducing Illness and Lives lost from Heatwaves project seeking to identify Australians most at risk from heatwave.

The project involves linking together several large Commonwealth datasets to identify key heatwave risks to Australians to potentially guide future government investment. The project also evaluates future heatwave impacts using climate change scenarios from the Bushfire and Natural Hazard Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) UNHaRMED project. It is the first to map vulnerability against Excess Heat Factor (EHF), the scale used to define heatwave intensity by the Bureau and many Australian States and Territories.

This project is an important step towards the Bureau's broader implementation of impact-based forecast and warning services. The Bureau is also co-chair of the National Heatwave Working Group (NHWG) which is developing a National Heatwave Warning Framework.

A Pacific-first for tsunami warning services

The Bureau's Tsunami Warning Services (TWS) deliver tsunami warnings nationally within Australia (via the Australian Tsunami Warning System) and tsunami advisory information internationally to Indian Ocean countries. The Bureau's TWS became the first in the Pacific region to achieve certification and compliance with ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management Standard.

The Bureau supports NASA's Lucy mission

The Bureau’s Northern Territory office was delighted to host a visit from NASA scientists in October. The mission involved setting up 14 NASA telescopes along the Stuart Highway to observe a stellar occultation. The star was predicted to be shadowed by a 50 km wide Trojan asteroid for just 6 seconds just after 11 pm on the night of 4 November, with predicted cloud cover being a critical factor in mission success. Although cloud cover prevented mission success, new relationships were forged, and the mission’s science leader thanked the Bureau for its support.

A certificate of appreciation presented to the Bureau.
A certificate of appreciation presented to the Bureau.

Highlights and significant events

Predicting worsening drought and fire danger in 2019–20

Spring and early summer 2019–20 brought unprecedented climate conditions to much of Australia. Following poor rainfall during 2017 and 2018 in many areas, 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. The Polar Vortex is a pattern of strong westerly winds over the Southern Ocean which gives rise to the so-called 'roaring forties' to Australia's south. During spring, this normal pattern broke down and westerly winds spread much further north than usual to affect much of Australia, leading to dangerous fire danger and heatwaves affecting many parts.

The seasonal outlook for rainfall (left) and maximum temperature (right) provided to emergency managers and the public in August 2019.
The seasonal outlook for rainfall (left) and maximum temperature (right) provided to emergency managers and the public in August 2019.

The climate outlooks during spring into early summer showed substantially increased chances of below average rainfall and above average temperatures, and these outlooks were a key input into fire weather forecasts issued by Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC). The Bureau's insights and modelling allowed more frequent information updates to be provided to agencies, and to enhance the information available to our customers. As the season progressed and demands for information grew, the Bureau stood up a new weekly National Hazard Outlook service to integrate recent climate conditions with weekly and seasonal forecasts, which was provided to emergency managers across Australia.

The Bureau sets new benchmark for cyclone forecast accuracy

Severe tropical cyclone Damien inflicted the most intense conditions on Dampier and Karratha since tropical cyclone Orson in 1989. The Karratha automatic weather station (AWS) recorded sustained winds of 144 km/h and a maximum wind gust of 194 km/h, indicating the impact was towards the top end of a Category 3 cyclone. The Dampier weather radar sustained significant damage due to the event.

During the cyclone, the forecasts issued by the Perth Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre exhibited extraordinary track accuracy due to a combination of improved models, notably the new ACCESS-G3 model, the robust forecast process and the highly skilled forecasting team. The accuracy of forecasts three days out were particularly accurate compared to historical forecasts. This was despite Damien developing quickly after moving offshore, the system changing track abruptly towards the coast and intensifying as it neared the coast.

The consistent forecast and messaging over subsequent days provided both industry and the public ample warning time to make their preparations. The feedback given from industry and emergency services on the forecasts for this event were overwhelmingly positive.

The track map for severe tropical cyclone Damien tweeted by the Bureau.
The track map for severe tropical cyclone Damien tweeted by the Bureau.

Managing operations to deliver critical decision support

Throughout the year, the Bureau's national approach to resilient operations has ensured the community is provided a reliable and responsive weather service.

As the makings of tropical cyclone Claudia began to lash the Top End in January, the Darwin office turned its focus to customer decision support activities while Tropical Cyclone Warning centres in Queensland and Western Australia focused expertise into providing accurate and timely tropical cyclone advices. This approach meant that local meteorologists were able to work side-by-side with Northern Territory emergency services to provide briefings and offer critical decision advice to the team based at the Territory Emergency Operations Centre.

Meteorologists Bradley Wood (left) and Dean Sgarbossa (right) monitor thunderstorms forming across the Northern Territory late last year as part of the 2019–20 Operational Resilience Project.
Meteorologists Bradley Wood (left) and Dean Sgarbossa (right) monitor thunderstorms forming across the Northern Territory late last year as part of the 2019–20 Operational Resilience Project.

Later that month, while much of the focus was on New South Wales during the unprecedented bushfire season, a major fire was closing in on the southwest suburbs of Canberra. To assist the ACT Emergency Services Agency in its response, Incident Weather Forecasts for the fire were prepared by fire weather experts around the country, while rolling weather updates were provided to ABC Radio Canberra by Bureau experts in the Sydney and Perth offices. When the fire was threatening to break containment, the Bureau took advantage of a relatively quiet season in Tasmania to deploy a staff member from the Hobart Office to Canberra to provide in-person briefings and support for tactical decision-making.

In mid-May, storms impacted the whole coast of the Western Australia, from Exmouth to Albany and eastwards to Kalgoorlie. The event brought winds in excess of 130 km/hr, dust storms, severe fire weather conditions, heavy rainfall, storm surges and significant wave heights of 8 metres or more. Despite the tropical cyclone season officially ending almost three weeks earlier, warnings had to be issued for the Cocos Keeling Islands as well as offshore oil and gas rigs on the North West Shelf, and the Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre (TCWC) was quickly reactivated with help from the teams in Darwin and Brisbane.

Many warnings, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, tweets, TV interviews, media conferences and extra radio crosses followed, to provide the public with the information they needed to prepare and stay up to date with what was happening. All this occurred while most of the office was working from home and, while some forecasters did come into the office, others worked from home using new online tools to improve communication and to share and access information. These examples highlight the Bureau's increasing capacity to bring resources from around the country to where they are most needed, no matter where and when severe weather events arise.

Next steps

Key activities to be delivered in 2020–21 to help achieve Outcome 2 include:

  • implementing the new climatological, hydrological and meteorological services model being established through the Public Services Transformation Program;
  • informing future impact-based hazard warning services through a risk model using community vulnerability, exposure and hazard data; and
  • developing a Roadmap for implementing nationally consistent impact-based warnings.

Outcome 3: Highly valued services for customers and partners through our technology, science, people and communication expertise.

Achieving the outcome

Delivering customer-focused weather service enhancements

A major update to the popular BOM Weather app was launched in June. New features include hourly forecasts for the next 72 hours, pan and zoom radar, weather forecasts and warnings that move with the current location, UV forecasts and fire danger ratings all presented in a fresh new design. More than 6000 customers provided input into the trial version prior to release. For more information see the Data and Digital Group performance chapter.

This followed the release of a new mobile weather webpage (weather.bom.gov.au) in July 2019, accessible to anyone with a desktop computer, tablet, or smartphone. The development of the webpage paved the way for the decommissioning of the old mobile website, and the series of enhancements included in the app update, including the new radar viewer.

Almost 82% of general community respondents reported the Bureau's forecast services are easy to use

Preparing the community for severe weather

The Bureau continued its community awareness campaign encouraging members of the public to prepare for severe weather. The 'Know Your Weather. Know Your Risk' campaign was distributed through social media and emergency services partners from October to April. New educational videos released after severe weather events also helped to explain the science behind these weather occurrences.

Throughout September, the Bureau provided detailed medium- and long-term weather and climate information as part of the Annual Preparedness Briefings chaired by Emergency Management Australia. Additionally, the Bureau provided more than 100 presentations relevant to bushfire risk to every State and Territory across Australia between 1 April and 30 November. These included briefs to all levels of government and presentations to fire agencies, their Commissioners and the Chief Officers Strategic Committee of the Australian Fire and Emergency services Authority Council (AFAC), chaired by the Department of Home Affairs and Emergency Management Australia.

More than 700000 public forecasts issued

Providing better information on flash flooding potential

More detail has been added to the Bureau’s severe thunderstorm and severe weather warning service through a new threshold for intense rainfall that is expected to exceed the 2 per cent Annual Exceedance Probability (AEP) rate. These intense rainfall conditions represent a threat to the community, particularly with respect to dangerous and life-threatening flash flooding. This information is now being added to relevant warning products to draw people's attention to the most dangerous weather hazards.

Providing flood scenario outlooks for better flood preparation

An operational trial of a new national flood scenarios outlook product was undertaken during the year. The product indicates the likely magnitude and timing of flooding based on two different rainfall scenarios, allowing the emergency services to make plans and contingency arrangements based on different probable outcomes. The product focuses on the seven days ahead and complements the Bureau’s existing flood watch service. The flood scenarios outlooks were issued in five States and Territories during the operational trial period to support event planning and preparedness, and feedback from the emergency services has been positive. The next step is to implement the product fully into the Bureau's operational flood product suite.

2019–20 tropical cyclone season

There were seven tropical cyclones in the Australian region during the 2019–20 tropical cyclone season, which is significantly below the long-term average. There are usually between 9 and 13 tropical cyclones in the Australian region each season. Of the seven tropical cyclones, three reached Category 3 intensity (severe tropical cyclone) while in the Australian region, and three crossed the coast as tropical cyclones (cyclones Blake, Esther and Damien). Damien was the only severe tropical cyclone to make landfall.

The seven cyclones in the Australian region during 2019–20.
The seven cyclones in the Australian region during 2019–20.

Expanding tidal prediction services for Queensland

Tidal prediction services for approximately 60 new coastal locations and secondary ports in Queensland are being delivered by the Bureau under a new three-year contract with Maritime Safety Queensland. The first milestone of the project included the provision of tidal predictions for the 2021 Blue Book publications and was delivered to the client in June.

Embedded meteorologists assisting in fuel reduction burns

Under a trial arrangement with the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, a Bureau meteorologist was embedded within the State's Parks and Wildlife Service for between September and December to help with fuel reduction burns. The role of the meteorologist was to optimise the use of meteorological information for strategic and tactical decision-making. Specialised products and guidance were developed to address service gaps and detailed briefings were routinely provided to enhance the information provided.

The access to a dedicated meteorologist was widely valued by the Department and resulted in the Parks and Wildlife Service gaining a better understanding of weather patterns, potential smoke impacts and improved planning for prescribed burning.

Highlights and significant events

Deploying the expertise of the Bureau during Black Summer

From early spring, many parts of the country experienced prolonged and devastating bushfires. 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 soils and vegetation across eastern Australia. From July, the first bushfires had developed in northeast New South Wales, and during early spring the fires were burning across southeast Queensland. Widespread fires continued to burn into 2020.

From October, new fires developed throughout central and southern New South Wales. During November, the severe thunderstorm and heatwave season commenced in southeastern Australia, further worsening the situation. Along with impacts to health and infrastructure, excessive heat during these events increased the fire danger, while lightning strikes started new fires.

During the first half of summer many new fires started in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT, many merging to form large complexes that affected vast areas. Fires also developed in South Australia, with devastating impacts on Kangaroo Island. Smoke from these fires caused hazardous air pollution levels in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne over several weeks, having significant widespread impacts on public health. The fires peaked in late December and early January with the loss of much property and lives. Record high temperatures were widespread, including Australia's hottest day, week and month on record, and the highest temperature ever recorded in Canberra (44.0 °C) and the Sydney Basin (Penrith 48.9 °C).

Throughout the season, Bureau staff worked alongside emergency services and other sectors to provide forecasts, warnings, briefings and weather intelligence to inform decision-making. The Bureau worked with its partners in the media to ensure the community was aware of the expected impacts of these hazards, and the appropriate preparations to take.

The Bureau was also supported by international volunteers and services: the US National Weather Service seconded nine fire weather specialist meteorologists to the Bureau, while the Korean and Japanese meteorological agencies made additional satellite data available.

The full expertise of the Bureau was deployed, with meteorologists, climatologists, technicians, communication specialists and other Bureau capabilities working in close cooperation with Australian and State Government agencies, fire authorities, local councils, the Australian Defence Force, national, state and local media, and industry.

Fire ground surrounding Cape Borda Lighthouse and AWS, Kangaroo Island. Taken from aircraft on 10 January 2020. Provided courtesy CFS, South Australia.
Fire ground surrounding Cape Borda Lighthouse and AWS, Kangaroo Island. Taken from aircraft on 10 January 2020. Provided courtesy CFS, South Australia.

Not all floods are bad news; Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre floods

We often associate floods with destruction and devastation—but for the Channel Country, flooding brings life to the outback, helping vegetation and wildlife flourish.

Following the Queensland floods from January to March this year, floodwaters travelled almost 1000 km, before reaching Australia's largest lake, Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre in South Australia. At its peak, the lake reached around 80 per cent capacity, an event not seen since 2011. Interest was high with the Bureau fielding many enquiries from the public and media. For a short period, the lake became a tourist mecca.

Responding to this surge of interest, the Bureau worked cooperatively with media partner Channel 7 to visit the lake and take footage to develop an educational Bureau video of the spectacular event. The Bureau also generated blogs and many tweets as the waters made their journey, then gathered in the lake. Special Water Focus reports also described the event to stakeholders in the water industry. A rare event to which the Bureau responded and delivered key information and resources to the community.

An abundance of water in Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.
An abundance of water in Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.

Public Services Transformation Program—strengthening our services

As part of its commitment to provide an outstanding service for the Australian community, the Bureau commenced the Public Services Transformation Program to improve public services that deliver maximum impact and value for the Australian community. This Program, due for completion in 2022, will see a fundamental change in how the Bureau works, and it supports its partners and the community to make decisions that better protect lives and property.

In 2019-20, the Program:

  • transitioned to a new operations approach for weather, water, climate and ocean services. These changes are the first step towards creating a more responsive and resilient organisation, with the ability to more flexibly deploy our capabilities wherever the weather and the community need us to be;
  • developed a new framework for impact-based forecasting and warnings that will guide the Bureau to develop easier to understand forecasts and warnings, based on what the weather will do rather than what the weather will be, which will enable better protection of people's lives, properties and livelihoods; and
  • uplifted technology capability that means we can now prepare and issue forecasts for any location from any office, creating a more resilient and responsive enterprise.

Next steps

Key activities to be delivered in 2020–21 to help achieve Outcome 3 include:

  • establishing National Production Services centres to lead the Bureau's 24-hour weather watch; and
  • advancing the automation of routine forecast production without impacting customer requirements.