A mixture of sunshine and showers hangs over Melbourne CBD. Monday, December 4. 2017. Picture: David Crosling
A mixture of sunshine and showers hangs over Melbourne CBD. Monday, December 4. 2017. Picture: David Crosling

Why we won’t listen to next storm forecast

THEY promised Stormageddon. They said it was a "10" storm and "uncharted territory".

Half of us would never have seen anything like it, they said.

Homes and lives would be at risk. Farms would turn into lakes, they said.

But many parts of Victoria, particularly around in Melbourne, got little more than constant drizzle over the weekend.

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This is why many people believe the Bureau of Meteorology cried wolf with its weather forecasting last week.

Anyone from Victoria is used to crazy weather.

It's a bit cold when it's minus three.

It's a bit hot when it's 43 degrees in the shade.

It's a bit wet when it's a torrential downpour.

But when the weather bureau tells us there is going to be a rain event unprecedented in our lifetime, people do listen.

When the weather bureau tells us there is going to be a rain event unprecedented in our lifetime, people do listen, writes Susie O’Brien. Picture: David Crosling
When the weather bureau tells us there is going to be a rain event unprecedented in our lifetime, people do listen, writes Susie O’Brien. Picture: David Crosling

When we get text messages from the SES telling us to expect flooding, and to check on family and friends, we do listen.

Yes, it is better to be safe than sorry. However, I would have liked a little more explanation given that the event predicted didn't eventuate.

And I would hope for an acknowledgment by the bureau that some of the language used wasn't justified and should be subject to review. Otherwise they run the risk of people not listening the next time they issue the same warnings.

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On Thursday last week, Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Scott Williams warned: "It is an event that poses a threat to life, there will be a massive amount of lightning, there will be roads cut, flood waters."

"Half the inhabitants of Melbourne have probably never seen something like this.

"This is a vast, intense, high impact event for this state."

The bureau was promising the most "significant rain even in more than 20 years".

"If you wake up (on Friday) and think it isn't going to happen you'll just have to wait a while. They didn't think the Titanic would sink either, but it did," Mr Williams said.

He said the biggest risk was for Melbourne, would be hit with extensive flooding which would impact on infrastructure.

Dark clouds loom over Melbourne. Picture: David Crosling
Dark clouds loom over Melbourne. Picture: David Crosling

People believed the bureau's reports and so major events such as the Taste of Melbourne, Polo in the City, Opera in the Bowl, Arts Centre Melbourne's outdoor Christmas market, Tennis Victoria Premier League and all grades of Victorian Premier Cricket were cancelled.

International flights were diverted and some were delayed.

The reality was a little different.

Melbourne recorded more than 66 millimetres of rain over the weekend - receiving its December average in the first three days of the month.

But some parts of Melbourne received as little as 25 millimetres.

The towns of Euroa and Myrtleford had extensive flooding, but there was little flooding elsewhere and none in Melbourne over the weekend.

By Sunday Premier Daniel Andrews was defending the bureau, saying the total of rainfall was "absolutely accurate".

"The intensity of it was different and the exact location of it was a bit different, that's something we all should be happy about," he said.

State weather bureau manager Dr Andrew Tupper also said the storms were "pretty much as we described".

It's not true. There was a big gap between what was predicted and what happened.

Mr Andrews can say that it was predicted that "200-250mm of rain would fall, that's exactly what happened".

Cars pass through the water covered intersection of Racecourse and Flemington Rd in Melbourne. Picture: James Ross.
Cars pass through the water covered intersection of Racecourse and Flemington Rd in Melbourne. Picture: James Ross.

But we were told to expect that amount of rain across the entire state.

While the people of Myrtleford and Euroa were no doubt grateful for the warnings, the rest of us are wondering what happened.

Despite the fact that 2700 calls for assistance were received, only 73 homes across the state were affected by flooding.

Yes, we should be very grateful for that - and we are.

But it seems strange to me that officials continue to defend the type of language used in the lead up to the weekend.

Dr Tupper said: "If we had our time again, yes, we would put out an event with similar language to that".

I appreciate that the bureau needs to be proactive and err on the side of caution. I also appreciate that, despite all of the technological advances, weather forecasting is an inexact science.

Victoria's Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Dr Andrew Tupper, from the Bureau of Meteorology. Picture: AAP /Luis Enrique Ascui.
Victoria's Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Dr Andrew Tupper, from the Bureau of Meteorology. Picture: AAP /Luis Enrique Ascui.

As they've said, coming up with accurate forecasts four days in advance is not always easy, especially given the speed and unpredictability of major weather events like storms.

However, I'm left wondering why isn't the bureau examining why rather than continuing to defend itself? Why don't they take this event and learn from it?

While it's a great relief that no lives were lost, people who took action as a result of the warnings deserve more of an explanation. This includes those who lost income in closing business and cancelling events.

The real worry is that people may not take as much notice next time, when the catastrophe might be real.

Susie O'Brien is a Herald Sun columnist.

susan.obrien@news.com.au

@susieob



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