YES we have a video aimed at helping all Australians understand our climate
8 May 2013
From reading an autocue to wearing make-up for the first time, climatologist Dr Andrew Watkins reflects on the experience of making the Annual Climate Summary 2012 video. The video, which greatly exceeded expectations with 15,000+ views in its first two months, involved many firsts for Australia's climate, the Bureau, and Andrew himself.
There's a first for everything.
When I was asked to participate in the climate of 2012 video I imagined it would just be in the writing. Being a Bureau climatologist you're asked to write lots of stuff: Seasonal Outlooks, annual climate summaries and even the occasional Facebook or Bureau blog post. But I was a little stunned when they asked me to appear in the video as well.
"Video? You want me to be in the video?"
The solemn nods signified a yes.
"Well... I'm not wearing a tie..."
Like many a scientist I have a natural aversion to ties. And like many a scientist I'm also fascinated by the what/where/when and why of the world around us. So while doing my first-ever video was a little out of my comfort zone, I figured that at least it was a chance to indulge my inner nerd and have a good ol' yabber about climate stuff on YouTube.
The climate of 2012 video was a first for the Bureau. Like many science groups around the world we have always been keen to explore new and different ways of getting our message across.
We were one of the first off the blocks when the internet started with a Bureau homepage trumpeting 'METeorology on the NET' launched in early 1996. Even before that we had a gopher text information service that we thought was 'oh so cool.' (Chocolate frog to the first person who remembers what gopher was.)
In this case we know that while everyone is affected by the climate, a 32-page Annual Climate Summary is probably only quiet bedtime reading for a climatologist. That's why we thought shoehorning the basics into a video anyone could watch in a coffee break was essential in order to make the information accessible to all.
Likewise, it was important to get it right, so the experts were brought in to make it look all snazzy. Hence I found myself plonked in front of a green screen, on which graphics and maps were later superimposed, and surrounded by people with headphones and clipboards pointing bright lights at me from three feet away.
I felt very Grant Denyer. Sure, we won't be able to do that level of production every time but it was a good chance to see what we could do when we gave it a red hot go.
There were some firsts for me as well. And in this case they were many and strange.
First time using an autocue—surely you didn't think I remembered all the lines off the top of my head? I'm a climatologist, not Sir Laurence Olivier!
First time wearing makeup—ok, it was just a little powder to stop my head shining in the dazzling lights, but to a makeup virgin it felt like a full face of slap. Plus a tad odd travelling home on the train...
And first time co-writing a script – sure, it was no Francis Ford Coppola epic or Woody Allen classic, but you (or Francis or Woody) try summarising the climate of our vast continent over a year into two minutes and twenty seconds. It isn't a doddle, believe me.
The climate itself had plenty of firsts in 2012 – almost too many to put into a miserly 300 words, which is about all you can fit in two minutes.
We eventually managed to whittle it down to a few key points. In essence the year started wet, cold and a bit floody, and ended dry, hot and with a few too many fires for most people's liking. The climate of Australia really did a complete 180, so it seemed natural to call the video 'A year of contrasts.'
It was also important to get across the fact that if you just looked at the averages for the year you'd never pick what a wildly varying year it really was. The extremes and firsts pretty much balanced out to give almost dead-on normal average temperatures and rainfall. In 2012, the devil was in the detail.
And before you ask why, well stay tuned as we'll write about that in another blog soon. Promise. But in a nutshell, the key factors that drive our climate also did a near U-turn, leaving many a harried climatologist round the world in need of a bex and a good lie down by year's end.
What do you think?
The 2012 climate video was a test run of the future for the Bureau's services. We've had some great feedback (aside from just my mum); including some very positive words from weather services around the world. I tried not to get too big a head when our American climate colleagues reckoned we'd "raised the bar".
And while we're stoked with the global feedback and the 15,000+ views we've received in the first two months, our focus is to connect and deliver to even more Australians.
So now it's over to you to let us know what you thought, if you want more, or less, or just want to see me roll my sleeves down properly, and I quote: 'you looked like you were about to do the dishes.' It all helps us to deliver the information you need in a way that works for you and that's what really should come first.
"For the Bureau of Meteorology, I'm Andrew Watkins."
Dr Andrew Watkins
Manager Climate Prediction Services