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Tuesday, 29 May 1984
Page: 2107

(Question No. 875)

Senator Kilgariff asked the Minister representing the Minister for Science and Technology, upon notice, on 3 May 1984:

(1) Have officers of the Bureau of Meteorology assessed the effectiveness of the Bureau's cyclone warning system; if so, what were their findings.

(2) How many complaints has the Minister for Science and Technology received regarding inadequacies in the receipt of warnings of tropical cyclone Kathy, issued for communities in the Gulf of Carpentaria region.

(3) From whom has the Minister received these complaints.

(4) What was the nature of each complaint.

(5) What action does the Government intend taking to overcome these problems.

(6) Has the Minister considered the urgent need to upgrade radar facilities in the Gulf region.

(7) What decisions has the Minister taken in regard to upgrading radar and weather forecasting facilities in the Gulf region.

Senator Ryan —The Minister for Science and Technology has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) The Bureau of Meteorology makes a comprehensive assessment of the tropical cyclone warning system after each cyclone season. It also makes assessments following each major cyclone event. The most recent of these was after tropical cyclone Kathy in March 1984. the findings were:

(a) warnings to coastal communities under potential threat were received well in advance. Borroloola, the township most severely damaged by the cyclone, was warned more than 18 hours before the winds struck;

(b) the positions, both current and forecast, were found useful and accurate by officers aboard prawn trawlers in their decision regarding safe anchorages;

(c) Burketown was not under threat, but received copies of warnings. Some delays were experienced at Burketown in receiving the warning messages due to lack of telex facilities;

(d) post analysis of forecast positions compared with the actual positions produced a mean error of 95.6 km which compares favourably with the Australian average of 180.46 km;

(e) complaints of tropical cyclone warning centres being unmanned stemmed from attempts to contact officers out of hours on normal office hours telephone numbers instead of the correct out of hours operational numbers. Out of hours telephone numbers have subsequently been provided to all local authorities;

(f) cyclone warnings described as out of date were as current as is possible. The position quoted in the warning may in fact be 2 to 3 hours old due to the three-hourly data update system together with the time necessary to collect, analyse, and transmit the new information;

(g) a radar installation at Gove would have been very valuable in providing data for improved analyses in the gulf area. Nevertheless, tropical cyclone Kathy would have been outside the range of Gove radar as it approached the coast ;

(h) close liaison between the Darwin and Brisbane offices was maintained throughout in accordance with standard procedures; and

(i) better communication links with remote Gulf townships are needed to:

provide telex facilities

improve radio and remote area television reception

ensure early and reliable receipt of warnings to allow precautionary measures to be taken against storm surges or flooding of the low-lying terrain in the Gulf region.

(2) One written and one verbal complaint. I have also received three recent letters about general aspects of the tropical cyclone warning system in north Queensland.

(3) From a senator and a member of Federal Parliament; from a member of the Queensland Parliament; and from a shire council in north Queensland.

(4) The complaints dealing directly with tropical cyclone Kathy concerned the difficulty in obtaining warnings in Burketown during the cyclone alert. The other representations dealt with: frequency and wording of warning messages; location of a tropical cyclone warning centre in north Queensland; and a general review of the warning system.

(5) The study of tropical cyclone Kathy indicated that the only real problem was in the communication links to remote Gulf communities. It is planned to explore the question of telex facilities in these areas as soon as possible.

Visits to the Gulf region by the Bureau's regional directors for Queensland and the Northern Territory helped clarify the problems of remote communities and also the understanding by people in these communities of the Bureau's tropical cyclone warning system.

A new format to allow for simpler, abbreviated warning messages in addition to the more complete messages will be decided at the 1984 review meeting in Brisbane in July.

(6) Yes. Plans have been formulated over several years as part of the Bureau's ten year re-equipment proposal and three year forward program.

(7) A new radar facility is planned for Gove in 1985 which will aid the tracking and positioning of a large percentage of Gulf cyclones. In the longer term, additional radar is planned for Weipa and an automatic weather station attached to a moored buoy in the Gulf of Carpentaria.