Bureau prepares for Next Generation

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman
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Farmers are set to benefit from a multi-million project that will see high-tech, seven-day forecasts rolled out across the entire State.

It's called the Next Generation Forecasts and Warning System - a $30.5 million Federal Government project that has already been introduced in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia.

This October, WA's Bureau of Metrology (BOM) will transition to the new system and, according to the bureau's Neil Bennett, the State's farmers have good reason to be excited.

"Prior to the advent of this system, the only way you could get a seven-day forecast was if you lived in a State capital," he said.

"That's no longer going to be the case and from mid to late October this year, you'll be able to get a seven-day forecast for the existing towns that we currently do a forecast for, plus some additional ones."

By the end of October, more than 60 towns will be receiving a seven-day forecast, including new locations such as Denmark, Mt Barker and Southern Cross.

In addition, in May 2013 a new graphical map is set to go live, allowing seven-day forecasts for any location in the entire State.

"You'll be able to go onto a map on the bureau's website and be able to click anywhere on that map and get a forecast for every 6km in WA - you won't be tied to the bureau's range of towns," Mr Bennett said.

The new system also means forecasters will no longer have to manually type all forecasts, with a new tool called a graphical forecast editor allowing forecasters to manipulate graphics on the computer screen before the program generates the text automatically.

"The big thing for farmers when it comes to that roll out next May is that they will be able to get graphical fields of rainfall out to seven days but that rainfall may be broken up into time steps of six hours for the first two days," Mr Bennett said.

"Then into 12 hours and then maybe just the rainfall for days six and seven.

"There will be probabilities of rainfall, there will also be wind forecasts in there for them as well for their spraying operations. We're trying to make sure we're giving farmers the complete package, that we're giving them the information they need in that seven-day period to plan their activities."

The new graphical format will also allow a greater interaction with the bureau's maps and radar loops

"Around May we will then have that information in a graphical format, which you'll be able to animate, zoom in and have overlays of information such as the current rainfall, roads and railways," Mr Bennett said.

That means farmers will be able to find their own property on the map, then overlay that with the radar and zoom in to see where the rain is hitting.

Mr Bennett said it was hard work getting ready for the new system, but with forecasters already in training for the transition, it was exciting.

"The bureau's model is now getting to be one of the best in the world. It is a collaborative effort between ourselves and the United Kingdom's Met Office," he said.

"So we're using their model but tweaking it for Australian conditions and the results are starting to show a good deal of improvement in our forecast accuracy."

Farmers will be able to see first-hand what the new system will look like at Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days this year where BOM staff will be on hand to talk about the Next Generation Forecasts and Warning System.

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