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BOM defends network cutbacks -

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MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: Port Macdonald is the most eastern township on South Australia's coastline. It's
a base for the State's biggest rock lobster fleet. But this place is better known to weather
watchers as Cape Northumberland, the adjacent headland. Weather observations have been collected
here since October 1864. But that 140-year history will end tomorrow.

DARREN OBST, WEATHER OBSERVER: It will be the last time you will hear Cape Northumberland mentioned
on the radio or on the TV, so I guess, yeah, a certain landmark, I guess, will be lost for sure.

SHARON VINEY, WEATHER OBSERVER: And the tourist association have stated that they were greatly

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: Darren Obst and his wife Sharon Viney have been collecting weather data at Cape
Northumberland for the past 11 years. They're part of a national network of 334 so-called manual
observer stations across the country run by the Bureau of Meteorology. 18 of them, including Cape
Northumberland, will be closed after tomorrow.

DON WHITE, WEATHER FORECASTER: I'm disappointed to see stations like Cape Northumberland in South
Australia going. It's had a sort of 140-year record. It's quite different to the nearby station of
Mount Gambier, because Mount Gambier's inland. Now, we lose this climatic record for good when the
station closes down and this is a great pity.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: The Bureau of Meteorology says the closure of the 18 manual observer stations is
a consequence of new technology. An upgraded radar network, new satellites and a network of
automatic stations have brought human redundancies.

JIM ARTHUR, BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY: The technology that's out there has made the need for so many
manual observations - well, it's really reduced the need for them. So we just don't need them so
much. Our resources are better off being put into the new technologies rather than maintaining
these old manual networks.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: This is an automatic weather station, an AWS as it's known in the weather
business. The Bureau of Meteorology has 542 AWSs around Australia. They feed data every hour round
the clock back to the bureau's network of recording centres. But AWSs do sometimes break down, and
weather forecaster Don White says that's a good argument for maintaining the manual system.

DON WHITE: Unfortunately, AWSs tend to break down at times, often when there's severe weather, when
they get struck by lightning or something along those lines. The bureau website at the moment will
tell you that Mount Boyce up in the Blue Mountains behind Sydney has had 30 millimetre of rain this
year. The trouble is it broke down at times when there was 300 or 400 millimetres of rain.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: Automatic stations do break down from time to time, don't they?

JIM ARTHUR: They do, and sometimes manual observers sleep in, but automatic weather stations are
very reliable. Our reliability rate in the northern territory is 96 per cent for automatic weather
stations, and this would be the hardest place in Australia to keep them going.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: Gary Higgins records weather details at a place called Mango Farm, 150
kilometres south of Darwin. He's one of 145 manual observer stations where observations will be
reduced after tomorrow. He takes readings six times a day, but the Bureau of Meteorology is going
to half that number. One of the readings to be cut at Mango Farm is 3am, when Gary Higgins is
looking out especial for fog.

GARY HIGGINS, WEATHER OBSERVER: A lot of the new equipment, radar and satellite, can't actually
make a clear distinction between fog and cloud. The forecasters early in the morning specifically
look for a reporting of fog, and that's something that can only be got really with your eyes, and
we report things at 3 o'clock, say fog, that's the news by the aviation report.

JIM ARTHUR: While at some individual stations there's a loss, in an overall sense the bureau has
now got much much more data out there to back up its services and much more data available for

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: 100 kilometres east of Alice Springs, Guy Bosshard supplements his profits from
a hotel business with an income of $25,000 a year from the Bureau of Meteorology for his weather
recording work. The bureau has halved the number of his readings too, and he doesn't share the
bureau's trust in technology.

GUY BOSSHARD, WEATHER OBSERVER: I think you'll find that ours are a lot more cost efficient than
what the automatic ones are. We don't really break down like the machines do, and when the machines
break down people have to come down from Darwin to service them and fix them.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: The Bureau of Meteorology says it's always stressed to its paid weather
observers that the work might not be permanent. Sharon Viney's husband will still have work on a
rock lobster boat, but she will miss the income when her station closes after tomorrow.

SHARON VINEY: It's like a job that I can do from home and look after the children from home and it
doesn't take a lot of time.

JIM ARTHUR: I certainly have sympathy for the loss of income. But, in the end, what has to be done
has to be done as far as the bureau utilising the funds given to it by the taxpayer in the most
cost-effective manner.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: At Mango Farm Gary Higgins' income from the bureau will fall by around $10,000 a
year. He has an orchard and tourism business to fall back on, but says other observers are not so
well placed.

GARY HIGGINS: You know, they're just won't be able to survive. They're going to have to go to
Centrelink and the government will end up paying the money out anyway.

MURRAY McLAUGHLIN: At the Bureau of Meteorology there's a sense of nostalgia about the new

JIM ARTHUR: It's sad because some of the people we've had a long association with, but there aren't
that many stations that are closing down completely. It's just time moving on, isn't it?

KERRY O'BRIEN: Murray McLaughlin with that report.