IT’S BEEN AN UNEVENTFUL START TO THE CYCLONE SEASON HERE IN FAR NORTH QUEENSLAND. TC FINA WANDERED THE CORAL SEA BEFORE XMAS, AND GRANT MADE IT TO CAPE YORK AS A TROPICAL LOW AROUND THE SAME TIME. FOR MOST OF US, GLORIOUS WEATHER. VERY LITTLE RAIN.
So the arrival of TC Heidi in W.A yesterday was a timely reminder that it is still cyclone season, and we should be prepared for whatever may come between now and May.
My radio station, ABC Far North, maintains a look-out for cyclones through the season (November to May). When it looks like something’s brewing, we’re ready to bring you the warnings, position reports and vital information 24 hours a day. That state of readiness doesn’t just happen out of the blue. Planning for cyclone season begins back in the middle of the dry time, and we review our plans daily once the season gets going.
I’ve specialised in weather-watching for about eight years now. I’m no meteorologist, but I’ve had a long interest in the weather, encouraged by my high school science teacher, who was also a TV weather forecaster. I studied aviation meteorology for my pilot license a few years back, and I’ve done a lot of research on cyclones in recent times. All that adds up to knowing what to look for, and what questions to ask our weather forecasters when cyclones are heading our way.
So here’s my typical day during cyclone season. My primary resource is the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. www.bom.gov.au
Get to know this web-site. It’s an amazing resource. You need to check both the Queensland AND Northern Territory pages, as NT cyclones can head into the Gulf of Carpentaria and make for FNQ. I check the cyclone three-day outlooks, current observations, forecasts, satellite images, and most important of all, the mean sea level pressure weather charts.
That chart was from the start of last year’s horror wet season. Three cyclones all at once and TC Yasi waiting in the wings. Let’s hope we don’t see that again for a long time. But you can see the dotted blue line linking Bianca and Anthony. That’s the monsoon trough, where most cyclones form. When the monsoon is active close to Australia, that’s a danger period. http://www.abc.net.au/storm/monsoon/what.htm
I also check forecasting agencies around the Pacific & the Coral Sea. Vanuatu, Fiji, Solomon Islands, New Zealand. And I stay in touch with US Navy forecasting, and the many agencies that forecast tropical weather. They all use powerful computers and forecast models, and they often come up with differing predictions. Ultimately, the ABC provides you with the Australian B.O.M forecasts, but all that other information helps me understand their thinking and ask the right questions.
And then there’s the amazing network of people who listen to us and take the trouble to call or e-mail with observations, rainfall figures, and their own predictions. I get observations from pilots flying FNQ skies, from listeners who’ve seen the birds leaving the area, or maybe it’s the green ants swarming the way they did before cyclone Yasi. It all helps shape a picture of what’s going on and what may be coming.
I filter all of this through our local B.O.M forecasters in Cairns, and we get that information to you on the radio and on our website www.abc.net.au/farnorth .
That’s how it goes several times a day, seven days a week, right through the cyclone season. My colleagues at other ABC Radio stations in the tropics are at it as well, all under the guidance of managers with specific responsibility for the ABC response to emergencies. http://www.abc.net.au/news/emergency/
At the first sign of a developing low pressure system in or near our region, you’ll hear about it on ABC Far North. Our coverage escalates in proportion to the threat, and continues long after the event, when FNQ communities rely on us for information about emergency response, repairs and recovery.
We often broadcast from areas affected by cyclones and floods, sometimes under circumstances that are personally and technically challenging. We spend a lot of time prior to cyclone season making sure we’re prepared. The emergency kit is packed, batteries are charged, leads, cables & aerials checked and double-checked. Put a power regulator in the kit. Generator power is often unregulated, or “dirty”. It can ruin rechargeable batteries in phones, computers and other gear. Regulators (and some surge protectors) will deal with that. A valuable lesson from last year’s horror summer.
And each of us has a personal cyclone kit ready to go. Change of clothes, good footwear, food, medicine, first aid kit, battery powered radio, toilet paper, jelly beans, torch, batteries, water, a book, hand-wash, cash. For tips on preparing a cyclone kit http://www.emergency.qld.gov.au/emq/css/emergencykit.asp
And then, as the old corporal in Dad’s Army used to say – “don’t panic”. Cyclones are scary, some more than others. But the better prepared you are, the less risk of panic. And that preparation has to include decisions about whether it’ll be safe to be somewhere during a cyclone. Re-location or evacuation before the event might be the best decision.
Wherever you ride out the cyclone, have your battery powered radio with you. And heaps of fresh batteries. Get to know the various ABC Far North frequencies in your area — you may be able to hear more than one and that will be useful if a cyclone knocks one of our transmission towers down. http://www.abc.net.au/reception/freq/
And we’ll be providing info on social media as well. We use Twitter and other platforms. For info go to http://blogs.abc.net.au/queensland/2012/01/far-north-queensland-cyclone-season-twitter-can-help.html
And anytime you want to yarn about the weather, comment here or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org