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via Germaine Greer’s telling understory — Writer & Artist Michael Burge


We need to talk about Pauline


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Forecasting gets a ‘cool’ change

By Michael Burge 

AFTER decades of using familiar adjectives to describe the chance of predicted rainfall, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) is this week adopting new terminology.

For some, me included, the loss of words such as “patchy”, “scattered” and “isolated” seems like a terrible process of dumbing down.

For the more mathematically minded, the BoM is adopting some tried and true percentages to do away with words altogether, when predicting how many millimetres of rain are anticipated.

Transitioning to new terms like “slight”, “medium”, “high” or “very high” might make more sense when deciding what to wear to work the next day, but is it realistic in a country as vast as Australia?

The changes took effect in Tasmania and Western Australia yesterday. From today, Victoria, NSW, the ACT and Queensland will notice the new system in operation; while the Northern Territory and South Australia will have to wait until Thursday to try it on for size.

The BoM’s new Meteye autographic information system is the culprit robbing meteorologists of their traditional language.

Dividing the nation into six-square-kilometre units, Meteye allows for highly localised meteorological observations and forecasting within each square, according to BoM national public weather manager Vernon Carr.

Which sounds like an adjectival conundrum of its own, if I’m honest.

“Basically, we’re in a position (with Meteye) that we can give people a bit more detail about when it’s going to rain and how much rain they’re likely to get, whereas in the past it was just words,” Mr Carr said.

“We did some research with people and we found that some of the terms we used weren’t specific enough. Now we’re changing to what we hope will be a more meaningful presentation.

“We’re giving people a lot more background and detail now.”

From where I sit within my six-square-kilometre unit on the national grid, I reckon I can use Myeye to see, Myear to hear and Mynose to smell approaching rain about as fast as Meteye can tell me about it.

But for anyone needing a more accurate forecast, here’s the new line-up you’ll be hearing in your weather forecast from now on.

Rain will be forecast by percentages: 0-10 per cent – no mention of rain in forecast; 20-30 per cent – slight chance of rain; 40-60 per cent – medium chance of rain; 70-80 per cent – high change of rain; 90-100 per cent – very high chance of rain.

Fine, but I suspect losing traditional rural weather words means we’re going to lose touch with that frustrating and very rural phenomenon of rain falling on one side of a valley, but not a drop landing on the other.

Because rain just cannot be slotted into a neat percentile, we all know that – how do I describe rainfall in a vast, rural landscape?

I know, it’s “patchy”, “scattered” and “isolated” …

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