Weather Forecasting

Rossbank Observatory, by Simpkinson de Wesselow, 1840s (W.L. Crowther Library, SLT)

Meteorological recordings were made at Hobart Town and Macquarie Harbour as early as 1822. The Royal Society of London approached the British Government in 1836 for assistance in establishing observatories at Cape of Good Hope, St Helena and Hobart. The first fully equipped official meteorological station, named Rossbank Observatory, was established in Hobart in 1840. The simultaneous establishment of these stations represented the beginning of meteorology on a worldwide basis within the British Empire.

Many shipwrecks led to the Tasmanian colonial government commencing, in 1871, meteorological observations at lighthouses and other coastal stations and sponsoring a Meteorological Department from 1882, located at Anglesea Barracks. (The original observing site to the east of the Barracks is still in use as the official Hobart site.) Following federation, the commonwealth parliament passed the Meteorology Act (1906), and the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology was inaugurated in 1908. The state-based Meteorological Department thus became a commonwealth concern, ultimately evolving into the Tasmania and Antarctica Regional Office located in Hobart. Earlier, the Bureau opened staffed offices in 1937 at both Western Junction and Cambridge aerodromes. Three-hourly synoptic weather observations commenced because of the demands for improved weather services for aviation, as did routine upper-air observations. In 1958 the Cambridge meteorological office was transferred to what is now Hobart Airport.

In 1948 the Bureau set up an internationally significant observations site on the Tasmanian-administered Macquarie Island, and a forecast service was eventually provided for the island from Hobart. Another site of international significance is the Baseline Air Pollution Station at Cape Grim, established in 1976 by the Australian government to monitor and study global atmospheric composition – important in the greenhouse debate. The station has been a joint responsibility of the Bureau of Meteorology and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Since the station began, a 10 percent increase in carbon dioxide (one of the main greenhouse gases) has been measured.

The Forecasting and Warning Section of the Bureau's Regional Office was upgraded to Regional Forecasting Centre (RFC) status in 1971, by transferring the overall responsibility for aviation weather services from the Tasmania Area Office at Launceston Airport to the RFC. Pre-existing public and marine weather services for Tasmania issued from Hobart remained and were merged with aviation responsibilities, giving 24 hours per day coverage by RFC staff. Bureau forecasting services at Hobart Airport ceased in 1986 when the RFC assumed full responsibility.

To support disaster mitigation, a state–commonwealth Flood Warning Consultative Committee was created in 1987. A specialised Hydrology Section was established in the Bureau's Tasmania Regional Office in 1988, a Severe Weather Section in 1989, and a weather watch radar facility in north-west Tasmania at West Takone in 1995. In 2004 the Bureau of Meteorology further upgraded its automatic weather observing station at Launceston Airport, and installed a new automatic and continuous wind profiler to replace obsolete weather balloon tracking radar. The Bureau also opened its first 'shop front' Meteorological Information Office, in Launceston city.

Further reading: Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology, 50 years of weather, Canberra, 1957.

Hugh Hutchinson