The Bureau is the BOM(b). Free BOM tools helping your bottom line every day.

By Gabrielle Stannus

Each day, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) processes millions of weather observations from weather stations including satellite data, aircraft, ships and ocean buoys. These are fed into the Australian Community Climate and Earth System Simulator (ACCESS) weather and climate model. From this modelling, runs are made twice a day in order to provide local weather forecasts. Currently, this model can make 5,000 teraflops; that is 5,000 (followed twelve zeros on the end) floating point observations per second.

5,000,000,000,000,000 calculations a second. That is truly amazing!

Vernon Carr, a meteorologist and Sector Lead – Horticulture in the BOM’s Agriculture team says that the BOM will be running forecast models four times a day within the next few years, when computer processing power is fast enough to allow it. This will enable the BOM to make more accurate longer-term forecasts. “Every ten years we get a day in the forecast. Ten years ago, we had a three-day forecast, whereas now we have a four-day forecast”, says Vernon.

However, this data is meaningless unless it is communicated in a fashion able to be understood by ‘ordinary’ Australians. Therefore, the BOM have developed a series of online tools to aid this purpose, namely the Weather Observations Website, the BOM Weather app and MetEye.

MetEye
The Bureau's online MetEye tool helps you visualise local weather observations and forecasts, for any location in Australia. You can search for your location and save favourite locations, get a three-hourly forecast for the seven days ahead, and view current conditions including the rainfall radar. Forecasts in MetEye are fine-tuned by Bureau forecasters to best represent expected weather and are routinely updated twice a day.



BOM Weather app
Information from MetEye feeds into the BOM Weather app. This free app is available on smartphones and provides a seven-day forecast. This app uses your existing location to see current conditions and warnings, forecast over the next 24 hours and rainfall radar.












Weather Observations Website (WOW)
The Weather Observations Website (WOW) provides an online community where users can share information and photos about the weather. This free online service lets you view and contribute historic, real-time or automated weather observations, sightings and weather snaps, or simply send in a quick report such as "Thunderstorm on the horizon!". If you have a weather station connected to the internet, you can sign up to this service and register it. Sharing your weather data helps BOM meteorologists to check weather changes at a local level, thereby making more accurate forecasts. Vernon says that this service is currently web-based only but may become available on smartphones soon.

The future?
With advances in technology, Vernon says that the resolution at which weather and climate information will be available will greatly reduce, allowing for improved forecasting at a hyper-local level. “MetEye currently has a six-kilometre resolution; this will be halved in a few years”, says Vernon, adding that fine scale forecasting down to a 1.5km resolution will eventually be the norm. However, that depends on what computing power becomes available.

Accessing this data will become easier for users as the BOM incorporates Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) into its online platforms. APIs are already part of our daily office life; just think of your office software packages in which you can type documents and spreadsheets without having to know how to program computers. APIs are behind those. With improved APIs, users of BOM’s Data Services will be able to request only that data they need, saving time. “You won’t have to download gigabytes of data that you don’t need in order to get to the information you do need”, says Vernon.

Making better sense of this data
With all this weather and climate data on hand, how do you make meaningful decisions for your business? As a Registered User of BOM’s Data Services, Vernon and other BOM officers will work with you to interpret local weather and climate information, enabling you to make better-informed decisions about planting and cropping, irrigation, spraying, business investment and planning. One of Vernon’s clients, a nursery in eastern Melbourne, has achieved greater than thirty per cent savings in water consumption, and associated electricity costs, through better monitoring of rainfall and evapotranspiration through BOM forecasts. Previously this grower relied on pump manufacturer’s recommendations for scheduling irrigation.

Registered Users of the BOM’s Data Services also get access to information from the Agricultural Solutions team that is not publicly available on the BOM website, including an evapotranspiration “forecast”. Such information allows Registered Users to better decide on how much water they need to keep plants going, i.e. when and how to irrigate.

To become a Registered User, visit the BOM’s ‘ Business solutions for agriculture’ webpage or email Vernon and his team at agriculture@bom.gov.au with your contact details and indicating your business or industry and location. Note that some charges may apply to individual businesses.