Weather and Ocean information support for Search and Rescue

Weather and ocean information play a vital role in supporting Search and Rescue operations.  The Bureau of Meteorology provides meteorological and oceanographic support to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s (AMSA) Rescue Coordination Centre.  The Bureau’s weather and ocean information assists with the following four components of any search effort.

Flight path intelligence

Wind information for the upper atmosphere is used to determine the proportion of crosswinds, headwinds and tailwinds that a plane may have experienced during the planned flight path. This information would be used to plot potential touch down points from which search areas can be derived from.  Information about weather phenomena such as thunderstorms or cold fronts are also used to calculate alternative routes that a plane or vessel may have taken to avoid adverse weather conditions.

Calculating ocean drift for search area planning

Surface wind speed and direction, and ocean currents are the key input variables into AMSA's drift area calculations.  These calculations take into account the characteristics of the vessel, or life rafts, or a person wearing a lifejacket, and plots an area of possible drift positions based on the effects of the ocean currents and wind conditions. AMSA then use this area to construct the search strategy.

Meteorological support for air and sea search operations

The Bureau provides regular forecast support services to the Rescue Coordination Centre throughout each Search and Rescue event.  The forecast services provide information for planes conducting air searches about airport and flight conditions including cloudiness and visibility, as well as wind and wave conditions for boats supporting marine search activities.  AMSA adjust their search pattern strategy depending on the visibility and choppiness of the sea.  Safety of the vessels and planes involved in the search is paramount to a successful search and rescue operation.

Assessing survivability and health

Wind, wave, water temperature, air temperature and rainfall are used by AMSA to undertake an assessment of a person’s health if they were floating in the water or in a life boat when exposed to the weather conditions in the area.

International co-operation arrangements

These support arrangements form part of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, and the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue.  The World Meteorological Organisation and International Civil Aviation Organisation work together to develop and maintain standard procedures for Meteorological agencies to follow around the world.