Category Archives: Bureau of Meteorology

Submission to the NSW Independent Bushfire Inquiry

Submission by Dr. W.H. (Bill) Johnston

Terms of Reference for the inquiry were: (

The Inquiry is to consider, and report to the Premier on, the following matters.

  1. The causes of, and factors contributing to, the frequency, intensity, timing and location of, bushfires in NSW in the 2019-20 bushfire season, including consideration of any role of weather, drought, climate change, fuel loads and human activity.
  2. The preparation and planning by agencies, government, other entities and the community for bushfires in NSW, including current laws, practices and strategies, and building standards and their application and effect.
  3. Responses to bushfires, particularly measures to control the spread of the fires and to protect life, property and the environment, including: 
    • immediate management, including the issuing of public warnings
    • resourcing, coordination and deployment
    • equipment and communication systems.
  4. Any other matters that the inquiry deems appropriate in relation to bushfires.

Forty-four post-1910 daily rainfall datasets extending from Mallacoota (Vic.) to Yamba Pilot Station were summarised and examined; a select group of 10 from southeastern NSW and the Central Coast were analysed and from them, four or five were used to support the submission. 

A monthly water balance was used to identify long-term sequences of dry years. Drought sequences were also identified using stream discharge data for two unregulated streams in the Bega Valley. 

When efforts were made in 2013 to get hazard reduction action near our farm at Bemboka, contradictory sections of the NSW Rural Fires Act (1997) proved to be insurmountable. As the landscape continued to dry it was never a question of if but of when calamity would strike.

While the situation deteriorated and despite repeated warnings, the local Regional Advisory Committee and those in charge at Bushfire-HQ sat on their hands; paralysed by inaction. The Tathra fire in March 2018 was a wake-up call but no-body was awake. Local greenies blamed it on the climate, but it was failing electricity infrastructure. The rest is history … look over there; blame the Prime Minister …

From Gippsland to the North Coast of NSW and southern Queensland, irrespective of whether fires were deliberately lit or not, it can be fairly said the calamity of the so-called Black-summer bushfires resulted from a lack of appreciation of the emerging ‘big-picture’ threat; and of government policy and bureaucratic failures, not the climate.  

Click here to download the full paper including photographs and tables of data used

Climate at Rockhampton

Dr. Bill Johnston[1]

 Main Points

  • Aerial photographs and archived plans and documents unequivocally show the Stevenson screen at Rockhampton airport moved about 450 m from beside the northern boundary of the aerodrome to a mounded site south of the runways before May 1956. The move was not reported in site-summary or ACORN-SAT[2] metadata and the substantial change in exposure appeared to have been adjusted-out of the data using parallel observations that continued possibly until the 1960s.
  • A satellite communications unit (SatCom) installed within 25 m of the second site in 1986/87 caused maximum temperature to step-up 0.48oC. Also undocumented by metadata, the abrupt increase was ignored to imply it was due to the climate.
  • The cause of an upward step-change in 2013 (0.95oC) was not specifically identified. However, as it was not related to site changes or the climate, it was either due to a local instrument fault or a problem with off-site data processing. Everything considered, it could not be ruled out that recent data were manipulated so daily maximum temperatures appeared warmer by up to 2.2oC on warm days.
  • Adjusted for rainfall, site-related changes caused Tmax to warm 1.44oC overall and after step-changes and rainfall were accounted-for no unexplained changes or trends remained that could be attributed to the climate. 


The Rockhampton airport weather station (ID 39083) is an Australian Climate Observations Reference Network – Surface Air Temperature site used to estimate Australia’s warming. As is the case for other ACORN-SAT sites, since the early 1990s when they commenced homogenising Australian temperature data, Bureau climate scientists have claimed repeatedly that site-histories used to pinpoint changepoints and make adjustments were exhaustively researched. However, to their discredit, like at Cairns and Townsville, they ignored that the original meteorological enclosure at Rockhampton (Figure 1) moved about 450 m south to a substantially different exposure before May 1956. Furthermore, it appears the effect on data was adjusted-out using parallel observations that continued possibly until the 1960s.

As if to blame the climate, Bureau scientists also ignored that a satellite communications module (SatCom) installed close to the second site in 1986/87 (Figure 2) caused mean annual maximum temperature (Tmax) to abruptly step-up 0.48oC from 1987.

Figure 1. (Left) The original Rockhampton weather station (met) was located was located on the northern boundary of the aerodrome behind the Aeradio office (mo), which was established by Amalgamated Wireless Australasia on behalf of the Civil Aviation Board in 1939. Other buildings shown in the May 1956 aerial photograph were H2, the hydrogen generator for filling balloons used to estimate windspeed and direction; (h) the pre-WWII hanger, (t) the terminal, (twr) tower and signal square (ss) used for visual communication. Although Bureau staff moved to the new control tower complex in 1961, the met-enclosure was still maintained until at least June 1966 (right).    

A step-change in 2013 (0.95oC) was not related to the climate but was caused by over-reporting of high-range daily values. The change appeared to have coincided with the AWS being hard-wired to the Bureau’s computers in Melbourne where data were processed into daily maxima, minima and 10-minute and half-hourly observations. As the Stevenson screen had been changed from 230 to 80-litres well before (on 22 March 2000) and no site changes were evident in satellite images; it was highly unlikely that while distributions of upper-range minimum temperatures (daily Tmin >18oC) were cooler after 2013, the highest 10% of daily observations (Tmax >33oC) were warmer by up to 2.2oC.

Further, while the record-highest temperature on 18 November 1990 (45.3oC) occurred before the site moved away from the SatCom and should be disregarded, it is implausible that the second highest value of 44.4oC on 28 November 2018 was 2.7oC over-range relative to the percentile distribution of pre-2013 data.

Although evidence was circumstantial, either the instrument, including its calibration was faulty or the problem occurred during processing. Given there were no parallel observations or a paper-trail, and bearing in-mind the Bureau’s penchant for declaring daily, monthly and annual ‘records’ somewhere almost every day, it cannot be ruled out that data were jigged higher on warm days.

Click here for full paper, photographs and tables of data.


Moving a weather station is not a simple matter and it is not possible that the pre-1956 move was not recorded in Bureau files. It required negotiation with the Royal Australian Air Force and the Department of Civil Aviation; recommendations and approvals of expenditure at Director level; requisitions to the Department of Public Works (Cwth) for building the mound and installing equipment and it may have taken months to complete. Following the move parallel observations were made for several more years. Adding to the debacle, it appears data were changed to hide the move, which further undermines trust in the integrity of the Bureau’s data management processes.

Figure 2. An undated oblique view of the Rockhampton weather station and large SatCom dish copied from a 2011 ACORN-SAT Station catalogue (left); and (right) the same site from a different perspective copied from the most recent catalogue. Installation of the SatCom in 1986/87 caused maximum temperature to step-up 0.48oC.   

It is also not possible that observers were unaware that the SatCom was installed 20 to 30 m from the previous site in 1986/87 or that it generated heat that affected measurements. Also perverse is that the 1987 step-change, which was highly significant in both time and rainfall domains, was not detected or adjusted by data homogenisation. Likewise, multiple analyses of the 2013 step-change found it was due to either an instrument fault or off-site data processing, not the climate.

Despite at least four homogenisation iterations of the same data, failure to detect and adjust the 1987 step-change exposed major weaknesses in the Bureau’s methods. Homogenisation lacks scientific objectively, rigour and oversight; while picking and choosing changepoints and applying arbitrary adjustments allows changes and trends in homogenised data to be pre-determined.

Finally, at all levels (publication in scientific journals; the Bureau’s annual climate statements and reviews; CSIRO’s State of the Climate reports, supporting documents and advice to governments; grey-science news stories spread by the Climate Commission, the Conversation, the Climate Council, WWF and the ABC, in-house reviews and ‘independent’ technical audits) the peer-review process failed dismally to detect problems and biases.

Changepoint identification based on poorly researched and misleading metadata and application of arbitrary and inconsistent adjustments is neither credible nor scientific and should be abandoned.

Bill Johnston, 5 April 2020

For the full paper including graphs, photographs and data click here

[1] Dr. Bill Johnston’s scientific interests include agronomy, soil science, hydrology and climatology. With colleagues, he undertook daily weather observations from 1971 to 1979. 

[2] Australian Climate Observations Reference Network – Surface Air Temperature

Climate at Townsville

Dr. Bill Johnston

Dr. Bill Johnston’s scientific interests include agronomy, soil science, hydrology and climatology. With colleagues, he undertook daily weather observations from 1971 to 1979.


Main points

  • Aerial photographs and Royal Australian Air Force plans and documents held by the National Library and National Archives of Australia show the Stevenson screen at Townsville airport moved at least three, possibly four times before 1969 while it was on the eastern side of the main runway; and probably twice between when it moved to a mound on the western side in January 1970 and to the current automatic weather station site in December 1994.
  • Of those site changes, a site move in 1953/54 and another in 1970 resulted in step-changes in maximum temperature data that were unrelated to the climate. A step-change in minima in 1968 appeared to be due to nearby disturbances associated with building an extension to the met-office. Importantly, except in the Bureau’s Garbutt instruments file, which is online at the National Archives (Barcode 12879364), none of the relocations or nearby changes are listed or described in site-summary metadata.   
  • By ignoring prior changes and smoothing the 1994 transition to the automatic weather station and small (60-litre) Stevenson screen, homogenisation created trends in maximum and minimum temperature that had nothing to do with the climate. 
  • Accounting simultaneously for site-related changes and covariates (rainfall for Tmax and Tmax for Tmin) leaves no residual trend, change or cycles attributable to the climate. Thus there is no evidence that the climate has warmed or changed.


Like many of Australia’s ACORN-SAT weather stations[1], the site at Townsville airport was set-up in 1939 as an Aeradio office for monitoring air-traffic and to provide advice of inclement weather along the east coast route between Melbourne and Port Moresby.

Changes in facilities, instruments and functions caused the site to move irregularly; however, moves and changes prior to December 1994 were not detailed in ACORN-SAT or site-summary metadata. Despite repeated assurances in peer-reviewed publications written by Bureau climate scientists and others, that the history of ACORN-SAT sites had been exhaustively researched and appropriate adjustments had been made for the effect of site changes on data, it was not the case at Cairns and neither is it true for Townsville.

As there is no measurable change or warming in temperature data for Townsville Airport, claims of catastrophic consequences for the Great Barrier Reef are unfounded in the temperature data and, as a consequence, are grossly overstated.

Click here to download the full paper including photographs and tables of data used.


Climate at Cairns

Dr. Bill Johnston

Dr. Bill Johnston ‘s scientific interests include agronomy, soil science, hydrology and climatology. With colleagues, he undertook daily weather observations from 1971 to 1979.


Main points

  • Like many historical datasets, conditions affecting temperature measured at the Cairns post office are largely unknown. Site changes in 1900 and 1924 occurred in parallel with observations and an objective statistical method and post hoc attribution of changepoints as detailed previously for Gladstone Radar is preferable to relying on incomplete and possibly misleading metadata.
  • Metadata incorrectly specifies the location of the original aerodrome site near the 1939 Aeradio office and ignored the move to the mounded-site near the centre of the airport in 1966 and also that the site moved in September 1983 out of the way of a new taxiway. During construction when neither site was operational, aerial photographs show a fourth site was established near the location of the current automatic weather station. Data from that site either in-filled the record or were used to adjust for the 1983 move. A highly significant step-change in 1986 plausibly marked when in-filling or adjustments ceased.
  • Rainfall reduced Tmax 0.033oC/100 mm and together with site changes accounted for 53.7% of Tmax variation. Step-changes at the post office in 1900, 1924 and 1929 and at the airport in 1986 caused 1.01oC of warming in the data and there is no residual trend or change attributable to the climate.


Cairns is located in northern Queensland and is the main tourist-hub for visitors to Port Douglas, the wet-tropics hinterland and the northern Great Barrier Reef (GBR). It is often in the news that survival of the GBR is threatened by climate change warming and following a coordinated ‘save the reef’ campaign in April 2018 the Great Barrier Reef Foundation was gifted almost $0.5b by then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. While WWF and related entities including AYCC, GetUp! and the Climate Council continuously bang the same drum, the question remains: to what extent is the climate of the GBR changing or warming?

The best way to find out is to grab some data, undertake research and find out what is going-on.

Merged in October 1942, one hundred and twenty years of post office and airport data showed no evidence that the climate at Cairns has changed or warmed. No marked increases have occurred in the frequency of maximum temperature extremes and nothing suggests temperature is likely to increase markedly in the future.

Being a whole-of-government enterprise, climate change and warming has been created by Bureau of Meteorology scientists who ignored site changes that happened and adjusted for some that didn’t to cause warming in homogenised data that doesn’t exist. ACORN-SAT metadata claimed the only move at the airport was in December 1992 when the “site moved 1.5 km northwest (to the other side of the runway)”; which isn’t true. Picked-up by the ABC, The Conversation, Guardian, the former Fairfax press; numerous web-sites and professors dependent on funding from the Australian Research Council; it has all rested on an extremely dubious, and superficial, level of statistical analysis. It must surely be deeply concerning to any competent statistical analyst that the Bureau of Meteorology BOM) has only the most rudimentary knowledge of site changes at Cairns – site changes that have created significant step changes in the data. Exhaustive research into historical Public Works records reveals significant site changes affecting the temperature record at Cairns.

It is of concern that so much money has fallen out of the sky to address a problem that cannot be confirmed by a rigorous analysis of the data.         

Click here to download the full paper including photographs and tables of data used.

[1] Dr. Bill Johnston’s scientific interests include agronomy, soil science, hydrology and climatology. With colleagues, he undertook daily weather observations between 1971 and 1979.

Gladstone – Case study

Dr Bill Johnston [1]

Dr. Bill Johnston’s scientific interests include agronomy, soil science, hydrology and climatology. With colleagues, he undertook daily weather observations from 1971 to 1979.


Main Points

  • The weather station at Gladstone Radar marks the approximate southern extremity of the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Temperature and rainfall data are used to case study an objective method of analysing trend and changes in temperature data.
  • The 3-stage approach combines covariance and step-change analysis to resolve site change and covariable effects simultaneously and is widely applicable across Australia’s climate-monitoring network.
  • Accounting for site and instrument changes leaves no residual trend or change in Gladstone’s climate.


In Part 1 of this series, temperature and rainfall data for Gladstone Radar (Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) site 39326) are used to case-study a covariate approach to analysing temperature data that does not rely on comparisons with neighbouring sites whose data may be faulty.

Advantages of the method are:

  • The approach is based on physical principles and is transparent, objective and reproducible across sites.
  • Temperature data are not analysed as time-series in the first instance, which side steps the problem of confounding between serial site changes and the signal of interest.
  • Changes in data that are unrelated to the causal covariate are identified statistically and cross-referenced where possible to independent sources such as aerial photographs and archived plans and documents. Thus the process can’t be manipulated to achieve per-determined trends.
  • The effect of site-changes and other inhomogeneties are verified statistically in the covariate domain. Thus the approach is objective and reproducible.
  • Covariate-adjusted data are tested for trend and other systematic signals in the time-domain.

Further, statistical parameters such as significance of the overall fit (Preg), variation explained R2adj and significances of coefficients provide an independent overview of data quality.

Click here to download the full case study including photographs and tables of data used.

[1] Dr. Bill Johnston’s scientific interests include agronomy, soil science, hydrology and climatology. With colleagues, he undertook daily weather observations from 1971 to 1979.