Australian meteorology originated 40,000 years or more ago with the observations, belief systems and lifestyle of the Aborigines. Further information on the valuable contribution of Aboriginal culture to the weather knowledge of the Australian climate can be found in our pages on Indigenous Weather Knowledge. The first systematic weather observations in Australia were made by William Dawes, a lieutenant in the Royal Marines who arrived with the First Fleet in 1788.
Bureau weather stations (also called sites), including most Bureau of Meteorology offices, record a variety of weather phenomena, including temperature, humidity, rainfall, pressure, sunshine, wind, cloud and visibility. Weather balloons are used at selected stations (most of which are airports) to measure wind in the upper atmosphere, with many of the balloon flights also recording pressure, temperature, and humidity. The majority of stations in the Bureau of Meteorology's network do not observe all weather phenomena, and the elements observed at any particular station may change over time.
Some weather elements are observed more than once a day, and the number of observations within the day can vary from station to station. Minimum and maximum temperature, rainfall, maximum wind gust, evaporation, and sunshine are among the elements recorded daily. Other elements such as air temperature, humidity, wind, cloud and pressure may be recorded more frequently; e.g. at three-hourly, half-hourly and, from some Automatic Weather Stations (AWS), at one-minute intervals. In addition to being available as 24 hour totals, a lesser number of stations measure rainfall accumulated over smaller time periods through the day (e.g. 3 hour totals).
Observations at Bureau stations may be made by full-time staff, contract (co-operative) observers, volunteer weather observers, or an AWS. Volunteer weather observers in Australia have an important role to play in the recording of the weather. For example, the volunteer rainfall network has around 6000 volunteer observers, many of whom have made the daily 9 am reading of the rain gauge for many years.
An AWS may operate independently at an un-staffed site or at a normally-staffed site when the observer is absent (perhaps due to illness), or it may be used in conjunction with an observer. Many, but not all, sites transmit observations to the Bureau electronically, thereby making data available for forecasting and other purposes - such as display on the Bureau's web site - shortly after the observations were made.
All Bureau weather stations have a unique name and identification number, which is based around the concept of rainfall districts. Some of the weather stations form part of the Australian Climate Observations Reference Network to assist with monitoring climate variability and change in Australia. Stations may be closed for a number of reasons, such as when a property is sold, a better site is found, or when a station has a history of poor or missed observations.
All weather data recorded at a station are stored in the Bureau’s climate database (PDF, 350 kB) - known as the Australian Data Archive for Meteorology (ADAM). The climate record is a valuable asset for future generations, irrespective of whether the data are from a fully operational station measuring all weather elements, staffed 24 hours a day by full-time weather observers or from a remote rainfall recording instrument.
Page updated: October 8, 2014