We like to know what tomorrow will bring – especially the weather! Will it rain? What will I wear tomorrow? Will it be fine for a barbecue on the weekend?
Long-range weather forecasts have had an enduring popular appeal – particularly for Australian farmers concerned about the possibility of drought.
In the National Archives collection are the predictions for 1908 of one long-range ‘weather prophet’.
Mr J Harcourt Giddons, an ‘astronomical meteorologist’ of South Australia, published the annual Commonwealth Weather Chart for 28 years from 1898. He claimed to be able to predict weather up to 18 months in advance, ‘eclipsing the best efforts of the scientists of the day’.
This edition of the Weather Chart predicted the 1908 weekly weather for each state of Australia and seasonal weather for northern and southern Australia and even New Zealand. Giddons predicted that 1908 would be ‘rather a dry year’ based on ‘astronomical data’ and ‘personal observations’.
Testimonials declared Giddons a ‘prophet’, and his ‘unique and extraordinary forecasts’ based on ‘no mere conjecture’.
Although popular, such long-range forecasts failed to impress conventional meteorologists. From early colonial days, scientists had been working to establish a network of observers, gathering data to further our understanding of one of the most variable climates on earth.
Federation brought the chance to unite these efforts in a national system. The Constitution granted the new federal government power over meteorology, and in 1908 the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology commenced operations. Henry Ambrose Hunt, always sceptical of the claims of long-range forecasters, was appointed the first Commonwealth Meteorologist.
One hundred years later, the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology prepares us for daily and seasonal weather changes. So at least we usually have a pretty good idea whether to bring out the umbrella or the barbecue!