An Australian visit

21 July -10 August, 1996


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Why was I there?

This trip was a direct result of having been involved in the development of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology's Severe Thunderstorm Warning Services in 1989. At that time, I participated in an experimental forecast exercise at the Sydney regional forecast office. A consequence of the 1989 experiment was that Australia began to issue severe thunderstorm "advices" (comparable to "watches") and warnings, mostly by small teams in each of the regional forecast centers. These teams began to have more or less annual meetings to confer about operational issues and scientific findings. The severe weather specialists have become rather like an extended "family." In Australia, the teams are involved in more than just severe thunderstorms; they also deal with bushfire weather and tropical cyclones as well.

I was invited to participate in the 5th Australian Severe Thunderstorm Conference, which was organized by Phil Alford of the Services Policy Branch in Melbourne, with support from Tarini Casinader ( currently the head of the Severe Thunderstorm Warning Services, also in Melbourne), and a host of others too numerous to mention. The conference took place from 28 July to 02 August at Avoca Beach, New South Wales. At the conference, I was offered the "opportunity" to give six papers, including the keynote paper ... my papers can be found here ... as is typical of conferences, there was a "preprint" volume of papers, of course. Another part of my visit to "Oz" involved a "whirlwind" tour of five capital cities of Australia: Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, and Melbourne. During this tour, I gave various talks distilled from my conference papers and presentations of slides and video ... there were some limited opportunities to "sightsee."

The trip out

My outgoing flight on the 21st was another "delightful" experience, courtesy of the airlines' economy class. From Oklahoma City, the "puddle jumper" (a small turboprop) flight was nearly as long as the long wait in Dallas-Forth Worth to deplane (long taxi, a wait for a parking space, and a wait in line on the bus to get into the terminal). Then, the flight to Los Angeles was delayed about 40 min (which was something to offset the 4-hour layover in LAX, I thought). However, in LAX, after the usual rigamarole of an overseas flight, the leg to Sydney was delayed for more than an hour! Hence, the lovely flight (~15 h, in those spacious, comfortable economy class seats) arrived in Sydney with about 20 min for me to get to my connection north to Brisbane, Queensland. The delay meant that about three overseas flights arrived at about the same time ... there is only one baggage carousel for incoming Qantas overseas flights to check baggage through to domestic flights, so I waited about 40 mins for my baggage! Thus, I missed the connection to Brisbane. Of course, I got another, later flight, but this now meant that Jeff Callaghan of the Brisbane office, who was to meet my original flight, eventually gave up when I didn't arrive. When I did arrive, I was uncertain what to do, so I waited awhile, but it was clear that no one was going to show, so I needed to call the Brisbane office. However, I had no Australian money, and certainly no phone change. I used my government credit card to get some cash: two Aus$50 bills. Then I had to plead with the woman running a rental car booth to change my $50 into phone change. Fortunately, I had Jim Davidson's phone number with me, so I rang him up and Jeff finally arrived to pick me up. Come to find out, the office checked with the hotel where I was to stay, and the hotel's information was that I had checked in the previous night (!) so they were completely confused, and Qantas would not give them any information about my whereabouts. The mistake at the hotel was due to the Bureau's having paid for the bill, starting the night before ... so as far as the hotel was concerned, I was there! Total time from Norman to Brisbane ... about 30 hours! I arrived on the morning of the 23rd of July. Anyway, as it turned out, I was able to get some fitful sleep on the plane and so arrived in Brisbane after having just awakened from my "sleep" ... the result was that jet lag turned out to be a minimal problem.

The next issue was to deal with my stupidity at not having made my transparencies (I got the wrong blank transparencies so they jammed the color printer). We thought it would be easy to use my Powerpoint (version 3.0) slides to print them, but it turned out that the PCs at the office had a DOS Powerpoint version 4.0 that would not accept my Macintosh Powerpoint (v.3.0) presentation! I suppose NSSL needs to pay Bill Gates some more money (He needs it, of course.) and update my Powerpoint, but why can't Microsoft make their software backward compatible?! Anyway, it turned out we could project the Powerpoint presentation directly from my Mac Powerbook with the right connectors, so I limped throught a presentation of my papers (for the first time). The Brisbane office (notably Tom Shivas) loaned me the connectors for the rest of my trip and also an appropriate AC power cord for my Powerbook. My second day, I got a brief tour of Queensland's "Gold Coast" south of Brisbane and we visited a high terrain lookout on the border with New South Wales. Then it was off to Sydney the next day.

At the New South Wales Regional Office in Sydney, I visited with many friends from my last trip, including my long-time friend and colleague, John Colquhoun and his family, as well as Milton Speer and my forecaster mates, John Sutton and Dick Whittaker (sadly, I missed Evan Bathe). I also met some new friends, notably Andrew Treloar, Maciej Skierski, and Geoff Smith. With the help of the office staff, we somehow managed to cobble together the system to display my Powerpoint slides, again. My presentations were a bit more polished and went reasonably well. John Colquhoun and his wife Wendy treated me to a supper on the night of July 26th and then a trip on the Sydney Harbour ferry to Manley, where we took a short hike in the rain and saw a lot of wildflowers. Andrew Treloar and his wife Margo put me up on Saturday night; it was a great evening, visiting with Kenn Batt and his wife, Helen, as well as enjoying a home-cooked meal. On Sunday, they took me on a tour of the Hunter Valley and its wineries, after which we drove to Avoca Beach, for the conference.

The Conference

The facility (The Avoca Beach Motor Inn) at Avoca Beach was really first-rate, and I was treated to a full "suite" cabin all to myself (no one wanted to be too close to me?). Barry Hanstrum (from Perth) and I began to jog in the mornings, just as we had when he storm-chased with Al Moller and me in 1992 ... I am not in the shape I was back then, though! The 5th Australian Severe Thunderstorm Conference attendees began to show up on Sunday night and the conference began on Monday, July 29th.

I have many impressions from the conference, perhaps too numerous to mention. The facility was rather like that at the 15th Severe Local Storms Conference in Kananaskis, Alberta ... we ate our meals together, took breaks together, and socialized in the evenings, so we had a chance to really get to know one another. The Bureau invited some non-forecaster folks to the conference, like Graham Mills and Peter May from BMRC, Chas Keys of the New South Wales State Emergency Services, and others. This diversity was very useful and interesting. Unlike most conferences, I felt obligated to sit through most of the sessions, so it got to be quite a grind ... this was offset by the interesting discussions and many of the presentations, which were quite good overall. A nice diversion on Wednesday the 31st was provided by an afternoon ferry ride for most of the conference participants across Broken Bay (north of Sydney along the coast). It is really good to see the "family" nature of the Bureau's severe weather teams ... I would like to see the NWS offer more conferences and workshops for their forecasters. This is a great opportunity to have frank and open discussions about serious issues, including philosophical topics about what the "system" is trying to accomplish. Of course, like any family, the relationships are not all cordial and old antagonisms surface from time to time ... but I think it's healthy to have the arguments rather than brooding about the problems on midnight shifts. My presentations went reasonably well, I think. The folks from Adelaide provided a computer display system that worked very well with my Powerbook, and by this time, I'd had some practice giving the talks. Tarini Casinader thinks I've mellowed since 1989 ... I prefer to think that she is coming around to my way of thinking!

At the end of the conference, there was an informal "party" on Thursday night, after supper. Music was provided by "The Convective Ensemble," with Barry Hanstrum on lead guitar and vocals, Andrew Watson on rhythm guitar, Tony Bannister on some sort of flute and helping out with vocals, Jon Gill on vocals, and Roger Deslandes on the "bin" (wastebasket). Especially poignant was the tune "Owed to Chuck" (obviously written by a group of no-talents), with considerable crowd participation on the vocals. Various awards were given, and a great time was had by all. All I can say is that the AMS should take note ... Aussies know how to enjoy a conference and don't feel obligated to take it all so seriously.

After the Conference

After leaving Avoca Beach, the bus ride to Sydney airport was uneventful. I mentioned to Barry that I always get in lines at the airport where someone has a problem, thus creating a slow-moving line. It never matters which line I get in. Barry suggested to me that I was being unduly pessimistic ... until we got to the counter and it turned out I had been booked on a different flight! Thus, the problem person turned out to be me! After that, Barry just shook his head and agreed I had an airport jinx. I hate airports!! The flight to Perth, in Western Australia was about five hours, and was as boring as a five-hour flight normally is.

In Perth, I stayed with Barry, and we had a chance to tour southwestern Australia over the weekend, before I started to "work" on Monday. We drove along the coast, through what Barry proclaims as "the tornado capital of Australia, if not the world," Mandurah. Unfortunately, no tornado was forthcoming so instead we drove to Cape Leeuwen, the very southwestern tippy-tip of Australia. Sunset at land's end was quite inspiring and we spent the night in Augusta. The next day, a tour through Pemberton (and the Gloucester tree), the wineries of the Margaret River valley, and back to Perth. Barry and I are big blues fans and you can well imagine the blues tunes during my stay in Perth. Back to "work" on Monday the 5th... my Powerbook's 60 Hz cycle was incompatible with their computer video display (looking for a 50 Hz refresh rate, so my video scrolled indefinitely) ... so we used a large monitor for my presentation. Fortunately, it was a small room. Tony Bannister was a big help in getting things put together in Perth. His infectious enthusiasm for severe weather makes me feel quite at home in WA, given Barry's similar attitude. A treat was the tornado track we explored in King's Park in downtown Perth ... the tornado had passed across Perth on 15 July.

Monday night in Perth, I got a chance to meet Dave Watson, a mathematician interested in spatial statistics, formerly of the University of Western Australia and now with CSIRO. Dave is an Internet friend whom I "met" electronically while in Mallorca, where I happened to stumble on his book in the library. His insightful and useful book on contouring stimulated me to try to solve a long-standing problem (I needed simple code to do a Delauney triangulation). After experiencing a few difficulties, I used a Web search engine to find Dave's home page, we exchanged some e-mails, and I finally solved the problem I had been struggling with on and off for years. Dave is an expatriate Canadian and a terrific guy, so I am very happy to have had this chance to meet him in person. The Internet can be a very powerful collegial tool, folks!! A footnote to this event ... Mexican food restaurants in Australia are not high on my list of recommendations, at least for Yanks raised on Tex-Mex and more authentic Mexican restaurants. Sadly, the time arrived to move on to Adelaide, South Australia.

Arriving in Adelaide, however, quickly dispersed any minor unhappiness. Jenny Dickins, Andrew Watson, and John Pethick met me at the airport. After a late supper for them (unfortunately, I ate on the plane!) and a sample of the local brewer's art, I was whisked to my quarters for my stay in Adelaide, an unbelievable suite, with a kitchen full of food, a living room, a spare bedroom (!), and so on. Great digs!! Since Adelaide's computer video display equipment was so successful at the Conference, I had no trouble giving my presentations. The presentations lead into a slide and video show ... the Pampa tornado video always wows the crowd! I had a great visit with the folks at the Adelaide office, including their resident hydrologist, Chris Wright. I asked him if they had any basins (they call them catchments) that are likely flash flood candidates and he suggested a place called "Waterfall Gully" (great name!!). The next day, John, Jenny, and I visited the place on a tour of the Adelaide vicinity ... one resident has actually built a home right across the picturesque babbling brook! After touring the Big Thompson canyon at the end of the 20th Anniversary Symposium on the Big Thompson flash flood this past July, I never will be able to look at human constructions in canyons without thinking "This home is gone, that one, that business, ... perhaps this home might survive, the next one's history ... ." A spooky sight, knowing that one day, the canyon will be swept by a flood, taking who knows how many lives. Interestingly, the Adelaide office is built on a watercourse downtown, with a picturesque waterfall garden and pool in the front court. Fortunately, the office is on the second floor!

With those sobering thoughts still on my mind, I was on my way to Melbourne, Victoria. Phil Alford met me at the airport and put me up in a nice hotel right across the street from the Bureau offices on Lonsdale street. My schedule was mercifully modest. I got a chance to renew friendships with Ken Wilson and Sue Barrell, as well as Chris Ryan, Steve Oliver, and Ian Bell (Ian is doing really neat stuff!). I gave an afternoon talk to a fairly large audience and segued into another slide and video presentation. A wonderful evening was spent on my last night in Australia (Friday the 9th) at the home of Phil and his wife Nicole, along with Tarini and Chris Ryan, as well as Jon Gill and his wife Angela. Jon drove me to Phil's place for the event, and only got modestly lost on the way to Phil's (he's only recently moved to Melbourne from Darwin).

The trip home

Tarini took me to the airport on the morning of Saturday the 10th. The flight home was curious ... from Melbourne to Sydney on a 747 and then we had to change planes to another 747 (?) in Sydney. Then, it was about 14 hours to LAX, then on to DFW and the puddle-jumper to OKC, around 9 p.m. on the 10th. Transit time was about 28 hours, all told ... tail winds and shorter layovers helped out. I didn't sleep much and made the transition back to Central Daylight Time remarkably easily. Then it was back to the office on Monday morning, getting ready for the trip to the 15th AMS Weather Analysis and Forecasing Conference in Norfolk, VA the next week! What a travel year!!

Final thoughts

Once again, I found our colleagues in Australia to be hospitable and gracious in the extreme. Australia invites a leisurely visit someday ... I think there is much to see and do that would be worthwhile. However, since the Bureau of Meteorology paid the bills for this one, I could only touch on a few of the myriad opportunities, with the help of my friends when a few free hours came. The Bureau has a fine staff and they need to be proud of them for their accomplishments. I feel quite blessed to know many of them; I miss them already. I am quite grateful for their interest in having me participate in this exciting event!