Weather is predictable but are we paying attention?

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Footage of recent storm damage on Australia's East Coast suggests a 'serious disconnect' — we need to start paying attention to the signs since 'ignorance, like disrespect, claims its victims', writes Dr Lawrence Keim.

ONCE, when weather was a variable, we could never quite see accurately enough, even though we scanned the heavens for all sorts of signs.

As with uncertain things generally, it made for good conversation. People leaned against strainer posts and casting a sceptical eye towards the zenith, declared his or her hunch and explained lucidly his or her predictions.

But all the same, weather remained a bitch. It could turn on you overnight and freeze your new-born lamb to the turf. It could de-shingle your abode and wash away your fences.

These awesome forces were determinant. So much so your crop depended upon it, so did the time of your harvest, as a matter of fact your livelihood depended upon it.

It is not surprising, then, that certain metaphysical relations became attached to weather. The original gods were weather gods and when we became a little cannier, seasonal gods. Persephone, for example, and all her sad travails.

Gods, of course, are the original explanations of mysterious forces — explanations that retain mystery by a two-part process. Gods are essentially invisible but every now and then, he or she makes him or herself manifest by natural material means — processes any weather freak knows is the source of endless renewal.

We don’t allow weather to creep up on us, unseen anymore. Since the 1960s, we’ve had eyes in the sky or at least above the skies. And since 2000, the configuration of operational satellites has been pretty stable. According to Wikiversity, there is

... a set of equatorial geostationary satellites giving complete coverage of the entire globe and a further set of polar orbital satellites that typically yield global coverage twice a day, twelve hours apart.

There are usually five geostationary satellites, two from the U.S., covering that region, one from Europe covering that slice of the globe and then one from India, and finally one from Japan covering their respective sectors of the Earth. These satellites generally give a full scan of the Earth's disk every 30 minutes or better.

So on the weekend of 5 June, we were well prepared. J. and I spent much of Friday cleaning drains and sweeping up leaves, even pruning vulnerable shrubs.

To avoid accusations of complacency, the Bureau of Meteorology offers police and emergency services detailed assessments of likely weather events, thoroughly modelled. There is no doubt that the worst case scenarios are the ones that are screened at the press conference, where a senior police or an emergency services person explains, flanked by a dexterous and probably ambidextrous signer, offering communication to the deaf.

We are yet to offer synoptic charts in braille with squiggly raised lines demarcating the isobars. The sensuality of such communication is not lost on this weather buff.

The notifications of caution naturally inform us of the worst possible weather. For the adventurer inside all of us, sometimes we even feel slightly disappointed that the wind or the wave or the water didn’t quite reach the pinnacle we anticipated. That is until the evening news when again we see demonstrated how life so easily becomes a lottery. We watch and sympathise as others fare badly.

Heavy Coral Sea induced inundation yesterday. Old fashioned bitter westerly today.

I looked under my table in the study and found two circular seedpods with two black seeds attached to each. In an act of instant personification, the two seeds appeared like eyes and conferred a degree of personality to the seedpods. Goldenrain trees or Koelreuteria paniculata.

I was compelled by their stares to go in search of the raintree from which they came. Two blocks away, lifted by the wind, blown under the garage door (not as difficult as it sounds with a five centimetre gap there for unknown reasons and neglectfully ignored by this owner) across the garage and into my study and under my desk.

The two seedpods peered at me, imploringly, apologised and seemed to explain uncontrollable agency as the reason for their visit. They also seemed to ask to be put back in the garden where they had some sort of chance. In contrast to being put into the waste paper basket where they would be transported to the wheelie-bin and later to a mulching dumpster, bound for landfill and sealed off from sunlight forever.

Our contemporary mysteries are post-process ones, what happens after the event, contrary to putting the mystery up-front immediately to extract a modicum of respect for the natural environment.

Ignorance, like disrespect, claims its victims. The ongoing footage of abandoned vehicles risking river crossings and the high number of reported swift-water rescues, suggests something is wrong.

It is not just increased wilder weather but another disconnect. There is a sense of invincibility when up against environmental forces. Even though they got the message twice, spoken and signed simultaneously, they don’t seem to read the signs. 

You can read more by Dr Laurence Keim at

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