Weather forecasters today have it easy compared to 30 years ago, when all they had were a handful of blurry satellite images.
Through decades of research and development, forecasting the weather has changed as new technologies evolve and the expectations of what a weather forecast is has increased.
Nowadays, meteorologists can predict a storm, then see it come to life in real time.
We also try to communicate the expected impacts from the weather and send out associated weather warnings.
Rules of thumb have been used over the years to help improve the forecast accuracy where weather model guidance has been limited.
Many of these are still around today.
Research has suggested that you get around 1 centimetre of snow for every 1 millimetre of rainfall, and that in hot north-easterly winds the temperature in Strahan is often similar to the temperature in Ouse.
Over time weather models improve and begin to estimate these things for us, but there will always be things at even smaller scales that influence the weather.
The current highest resolution model is the Australian Community Climate Earth-System Simulator (Seasonal), known as ACCESS — C.
It is able to take into account differences in topography, coastline, clouds and all manner of things that impact the weather that are as small as 1.5km by 1.5km squares.
Obviously there are many things that can influence the weather that are smaller than this, but it is a massive improvement over a couple of decades ago.
Instead of seeing Tasmania as just one square of land, it is able to see mountains, valleys, small islands and coastline.
It also produces a forecast in 10-minute increments out to 36 hours into the future, rather than just three increments of 12 hours.
This amounts to over 13.5 million times the amount of data to look at each time the model is run — and it now runs twice as often as it was.
There are also at least a dozen different weather models, run multiple times per day, that often indicate sometimes drastically different outcomes in what they think the weather will do.
So, the role of the meteorologist has transitioned into interpreting such vast amounts of data to communicate what the weather will likely do and what impact it might have, rather than to try and figure what might happen.
To run all of this modelling, the Bureau operates one of the largest supercomputers in the southern hemisphere.
Enhancements to satellite imagery have followed a similar trend too.
In the 1990s, one blurry satellite image would arrive four times per day, and already be about 90 minutes old by the time it came out of what has been described to me as a wet fax machine.
These days we get high resolution images every 10 minutes with a time delay of only 20 minutes.
Watching cold fronts develop and cross the Southern Ocean almost looks like watching a time-lapse video, and lets you actually see weather systems approach.
There are two state-of-the-art radar sites in Tasmania — Mt Koonya in the southeast, and West Takone in the north-west.
Data from these radars is available publicly on the Bureau’s website and in the app, but for a long time it was only visible to a single person at the Hobart and Launceston airports where older radars were located — not even the meteorologists forecasting the weather could see them.
The internet has played a massive role in how forecasts have been communicated.
Weather forecasts used to be handwritten for a few towns around Tasmania for today and tomorrow, with a generalised statewide forecast for an additional two days.
These forecasts were entered into a fax machine by a dedicated communications officer and would often be recycled if the forecast was similar.
Any updates to the forecast would be done over the phone to the various news outlets and radio stations, because the only other real source was the printed forecast in the morning paper.
A satellite animation would also have to be recorded for the nightly TV news every day by a forecaster onto a Betamax tape.
We still do radio crosses daily, and the forecast still goes in the newspapers, but now all that is needed to update a forecast is to press a few buttons on a computer, and it updates on our website and app instantly.
There are many more forecasts produced these days too, with dozens of Tasmanian towns getting a detailed 7-day forecast.
We also have a dedicated satellite viewer on our website too, making Betamax now obsolete!
As a meteorologist in 2021, we have access to literally thousands of observations to look at each day to help with forecast monitoring and decision making.
Everything from one minute data streams from dozens of automatic weather stations to social media posts.
It’s amazing to forecast a particular type of severe thunderstorm, and in near real time see a video of it on social media.
This is just a snapshot of some of the things that have changed when it comes to forecasting the weather in Tasmania, and only over the last 30 years or so.
Similar advancements occurred when computers and phone lines were invented.
Before then, observations were much harder to come by and weather modelling was non-existent when the Australian Bureau of Meteorology was formed in 1908, after a period of time when state-based meteorological agencies existed.
Luke Johnston is a senior meteorologist with the Bureau of Meteorology