My favourite Australian band The Panics, have released a new song, Weatherman. The Panics, like The Triffids before them, hail from Perth. You can feel the big West Australian sky in all of their music. It seems simple, five guys, pretty standard line up, nasally vocals. But the more you listen, the more you realise the music is complex and nuanced. And it gets inside your head.
The Weatherman. When I was growing up it was a collective term to encompass the weather bureau. It was different to the presenters on TV (Or weathergirls, when we were unreconstructed chauvinists). My father, a man of few words, was obsessed with weather (having spent a lot of time at sea). He would tap his barometer three times (no more, no less) at 9 am daily. “Barometer’s rising” he would then say, leaving us to interpret what that might actually mean. HE would listen to the radio on the hour to check the weather report, just in case it changed. My sister Maureen and I, both weather tragics, commented recently how would be in heaven now, with all the access to weather data, globally.
I had hoped to become a meteorologist when I was younger. Failing physics in Year 12 put paid to that, when I realised that it was all about maths and physics, and not just going outside and sniffing the breeze and measuring the temperature.
It’s a pretty important role. My friend Omar Abou-Samra from the Global Disaster Preparedness Center was telling me that the “Weatherman” was named as one of the top influential people in the US. It was in reference to the advice that the weather service gives that can shut down government during recent blizzards. And while we like to complain about weather reports, they do a pretty good job at getting close. It is still an inexact science, although getting more and more sophisticated.
Embedding meteorologists with the emergency services enables them to determine microweather patterns that influence the direction of a firefront, or a storm burst. One of the reasons airports all have weather stations is to help predict wind shear, a very dangerous condition that can affect landings and take offs (and having experienced that once, it is not fun, at all).
Traditional indigenous knowledge is exceptionally important. Drawing upon 40,000 years of observed weather patterns, we seem to ignore this rich source of data. The country I live in, Bunourong country in the Kulin nation, we have seven seasons, and funnily enough when you look at them, they line up well with the local climatic patterns, much better than the transplanted European seasons. If we used the Kulin seasons, then we wouldn’t have to whinge about the poor summer in December, because that is kangaroo apple season, biderap, the true summer, dry season doesn’t start til mid January. Importantly, the Wurundjeri also talk about two non annual seasons, flood season on average every 28 years, and fire season, every 7 years. Which lines up with about the major fires and floods in European settlement history. Worth paying attention to, seeing as we are 7 years on from Black Saturday.
The climate is changing. It’s pretty simple. We were talking about this in third year climatology, back in 1985. The science is there, and it’s pretty hard to get thousands of scientists to agree. But they have. And we keep giving oxygen to the handful of doubters, who are elevated to demi-god status by the conservative forces. Most people believe the climate is changing, most people believe that we are the cause of it, and most people believe that we should do something about it.
What will it mean, it is hard to know, but it is scary, because of the uncertainty. Because of the complex nature of weather patterns, it is hard to determine what a little change here will do, to a weather pattern there. We see it with El Nino, water temperatures on one side of the Pacific, have a big impact on the weather on the other side. At 51 years old, I feel like we have let our kids down, because we knew, and we are the ones in power now, but we are ineffectual. I hope they don’t have to clean up our mess.
The Panics’ lead singer, Jae Laeffer said When I sing ‘Don’t complain to the weatherman,’ I first thought of the Earth’s changing climate. We’ve had fair warning. It’s not gonna fix itself… But the same applies to being burnt in life. Whether it’s one life or the human race, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to the world around us.”