BOM boss lashes out at media as he defends his agency’s performance

The Bureau of Meteorology boss has accused the media of “catastrophising” the weather as he defended his agency amid intense criticism of its warnings over summer.

BOM director Andrew Johnson fronted a federal parliamentary hearing on Tuesday and faced a stern grilling about his agency’s performance, including the accuracy of its forecasts following the devastating impact of ex-tropical cyclone Jasper and other recent severe storms.

Mr Johnson argued his staff had done a “superb job”, adding communities were given several days’ notice before the major weather events hit.

“I think the performance of our people — to give the community that level of advance warning — just wouldn’t have been possible in years gone by,” he said.

Mr Johnson said BOM’s performance was exceptional and its forecasts were excellent.

“On August 24, our three months seasonal forecast, we said there was a high likelihood of dry and warm conditions. That’s exactly what happened,” he said.

“Our October 19 forecast, our three months seasonal forecast — which is the transition from spring to summer — we forecast a switch from dry to neutral conditions with an equal chance of dry or wet conditions and rain in eastern Australia. That’s what happened.

“Then our update on November 23, our seasonal forecasts, we forecast a moistening trend with neutral to positive conditions in December and January, and that’s what happened.”

It was then suggested to Mr Johnson that predictions of a hot, dry summer had prompted farmers to sell their cattle cheaply.

But he said he would be surprised if a forecast would have such an influence on a farming business, adding there was a degree of uncertainty with forecasts.

It was further put to him that BOM had not made any “active correction” of media reporting after forecasts had changed.

But Mr Johnson said the media “latches on” and BOM could not be accountable for the media.

“What I observed this summer is a catastrophisation, frankly, of a whole range of weather events,” he said.

“One of the things that we are reflecting deeply on at the end of this summer is what else can we be doing to try and get these messages across because, clearly for some folks they didn’t hear it, but I think it’s important for the record to say that those messages were issued.”

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