The Wacky World of Weather Stations: No. 1- Mount Barker

This is the first in a series identifying the worst of Australian weather stations.  At one per day, it could be a long ride- 14 % of stations in South Australia are not compliant with specifications as published by the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM).  I started this enquiry thanks to BillinOz who contacted Jo Nova a couple of weeks ago- so full credit to him.

Specifications for meteorological stations are set out in the BOM Observation Specification 2013.1 “GUIDELINES FOR THE SITING AND EXPOSURE OF METEOROLOGICAL INSTRUMENTS AND OBSERVING FACILITIES”.

Here are some relevant details:

3.4.1  “… the Instrument enclosure is a 17 metres by 17 metres square enclosure in the middle of a 30 metre by 30 metre square buffer zone aligned in the true North – South direction.”

3.4.2  The enclosure area is to be “level, clearly defined and covered with as much of the natural vegetation of the area that can kept cut to a height of a few centimetres…  should not be artificially watered.”  Concrete or asphalt walkways no wider than 0.5 metres should be minimal and only installed if the ground will be impassable or unsafe in wet conditions.

3.4.3  The buffer zone must also be covered with natural vegetation maintained below 0.5 metres.

3.4.4  An isolated obstruction up to 15 metres high should be 4 times its height in distance from the enclosure.

3.4.5  Obstructions higher than 15 metres or “of a more general nature” should be at a greater distance, up to 10 times their height if they cover more than 45˚ of azimuth.

3.6.2 Instrument shelters (screens) must have a base 1.1 metres above ground level.

3.6.4  “If a shelter is required at locations where no instrument enclosure is to be provided, it must be installed in an area that is level and covered with either the natural vegetation of the area or unwatered grass, which needs to be kept trimmed to a few centimetres in height.  The site should not be in a hollow or on a steep slope.  The shelter should be freely exposed to the sun and wind, and not shielded by or close to trees, buildings, fences, walls or other obstructions.  It should also not be close to extensive areas of concrete, asphalt, rock or other surfaces which may locally alter the air temperature of the site.  In areas where these surfaces are unavoidable, a minimum clearance of 5 times the width of the unrepresentative surface is recommended.”

3.6.7  “Shelters should not be installed on the tops of roofs, or near the exhausts or heat exchangers of such equipment as air conditioners, refrigerators and the like.”

I use co-ordinates for each site published by the BOM to find the site in Google Earth.  (Thank you Mr Google!)

Mount Barker is a town about 30km southeast of Adelaide in South Australia. The town is surrounded by farmland, but is growing as it is within commuting distance from Adelaide.

Google Maps image:

Mt Barker 2019 map

The weather station (BOM station number 23733) has temperature data from 1957, when it was probably in an open area, but a suburb has grown around it.

Mt Barker 2019 closemap

The screen is now in a suburban street, but only 60 metres from a farm paddock, that’s two house yards and a road.  The screen is the white dot in the red ellipse.

So what’s wrong with the Mount Barker weather station?  How many non-compliant features can you find? 2019 satellite image:

Mt Barker 2019 aerial

2019 street view:

Mt Barker 2019 street

Close to houses… close to a fence… close to a tree… on a slope… on a watered lawn… close to a bitumen street.

The position of the screen has changed.  In 2015 it was on the other side of the yard….

Mt Barker 2015

… right beside a concrete driveway with a van parked alongside.

Don’t blame the people who live in the house, it’s not their fault, and please don’t search out the location.  That’s why I have blotted out any street names and house numbers.

This site is grossly non-compliant, so temperatures recorded here are not reliable.  However, Mt Barker’s temperatures are published at their Latest Weather Observations page, and also used by the BOM in weather reports, potentially including extremes of heat or cold. As well, Mount Barker is one of the sites used to adjust temperatures at ACORN-SAT sites at Adelaide, Cape Borda, Nuriootpa, Robe, and Snowtown.  Acorn sites are used for climate analysis- whether winters are getting warmer and summers hotter for example.  So the lack of quality at Mount Barker DOES MATTER!

My assessment?  FAIL


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22 Responses to “The Wacky World of Weather Stations: No. 1- Mount Barker”

  1. siliggy Says:

    Good thing it has a black box trailer under it in that 2015 picture. The grey gal pole it is on may get lonely out in the sun.

    • kenskingdom Says:

      I’ve worked out this is the 5th move, and the 4th site since the early 1990s. If it’s any consolation, this is the best it has ever been!

  2. Bill in Oz Says:

    Hi Ken, I have just re-read the BOM’s pdf about the Mt Barker weather station.
    Here is what I think has happened :
    1: Opened in 1861 at Police Station on Gawler St Mt barker
    2: Moved to an unknown location in 1997 ( no identifying features either ! ) which was not compliant with BOM guidelines.
    3 : Moved to another unknown location Mt Barker in 1997.
    4 : Moved to Hill St. Mt Barker in 2011. No street number given. So I walked Hill street from one to another. I think it was at a house at the end of the street up on the highest point. But the screen of trees /shrubs on the sketch is indicative. Need to Google it
    5 : Moved to Bowyer Crs Mt Barker in 2014. Currently still at Bowyer Crs,

    I wonder about the street numbers for three of the Mt Barker weather station locations, not being on this BOM document. How did their staff know how to find them for re-callibration ?

  3. kenskingdom Says:

    Hi Bill. I agree mostly, I think there were 4 sites. 28/3/97 I think is at the police station as in 1992- same fence and location of screen. 29/3/1997 is a strange one but appears to be on the edge of town (back then) and stays there while the vegetation grows around it until 2010, then Hill St. Thanks for your help in putting us on to this in the first place!

    • Bill in Oz Says:

      Ken until the late 1980’s Mt Barker was a smallish country town with lots of houses on big blocks with big gardens. Population ~ 3,000. So that BOM site after it moved from Gawler street in 1997, might be anywhere in the older part of Mt Barker.

      There was a housing boom ( both private developer housing & public housing ) in 1988-2000. Bowyer St dates from that time as does my own home. That was followed in 2010 by a further 1300 ha’s of rural land being rezoned for housing. Not al of the 1300 ha has been redeveloped yet. The current population is close to 16,000 and projected to be 30,000 by 2030.

      I suspect that the Police station site became unsuitable because SAPOL had plans for a major police building and car park on the site. I went and peered over the fence this afternoon. The garden in the backyard of the old police station ( where the BOM weather station was located ) is now part of a fence off & gated sealed car park for police vehicles only.

  4. David Brunt Says:

    Ken, have you looked at the Adeliade site? It was changed in 1980s from West Terrace with parklands to the West where the prevailing winds originate, to Kent Town. Kent town is inner city, buildings and concrete and bituminous all around.

  5. Bill in Oz Says:

    Just for record : Sliggy also found this link ( via Jennifer Marohassy’s blog ) with a letter published in the 1890’s In Adelaide where the Mt barker weather station is mentioned.. Mt barker was one of a number of such sites which were intended to be first order weather stations.

  6. Al Says:

    Luckily your assessment is unqualified and meaningless 😉

    • Bill In Oz Says:

      AI ehhhh. Artificial intelligence I presume ?

      You are a very late to the party AI…Months late in fact. Since then Ken has gone on to discover another 160 and rising BOM weather stations that do NOT comply with BOM’s own guidelines.

      The guidelines do not demand any special ‘qualifications’ to understand them. They are quite easy to understand in fact.

      However BOM staff do appear not to understand them.

      And that means that the temperatures recorded by these 160 + weather stations are indeed meaningless to quote your own remark..

      • Al Says:

        Come on Bill, use your noggin. The standards are created by BOM, so it’s irrelevant If the stations meet the criteria or not. They have been assessed on a site by site basis, and found to acceptable. BOM says so by not shutting the data down from those sites. So don’t stress your little mind about it. If the sites are found to be bad, and the data is in question, they will be shut down. Luckily there are people who work for BOM, that are qualified, who are out in the field making these decisions. There’s a saying I’ve heard that BOM uses, which is, “no data is better than bad data” this site is an example of bad data

        • Bill In Oz Says:

          You are an idiot Al.
          BOM made the standards for a reason : to ensure accuracy in the temperatures recorded by it weather stations.

          Now you are saying ” Ignore the fact that BOM has ignored it’s own guidelines. And just accept that BOM are the experts and always tell the truth.”

          The facts are that BOM has comprehensively ‘stuffed up’. There is a far better blunt way of saying this but Ken might object to coarse language. So I will not say it here.

          But such is the truth !

          And Al you missed something important : I live 150 meters from the Mount Barker BOM weather station. I can walk past it every day if I want just for a look so. It’s utterly non compliant with BOM’s guidelines.

          And this non compliance was illustrated back in June this year. I had 8 days of continuous frost on my lawn In June.And I live on a hill with a fair slope. So frosts are rare for me mate. But the BOM station 150 meters away states that in June there were only 5 days of frost and they were not continuous.

          What do I believe ? The BOM weather station or my own bloody eyes ! Always my own eyes !

          • Al Says:

            Hi champ, bureau stations do not monitor ‘frost’ temperatures around 4 degrees or below are indicative of frost as the ground temp is usually lower. From a quick look at the historical data from June, it looks like 4 – 6 days of frost. Again, could be more or less due to things like wind and what not.

          • kenskingdom Says:

            Hi AI again: Temperatures indicative of frost (or not) could also be affected by proximity to the house(s), fence, & shrubs. A well exposed screen will more accurately record representative temperatures of the area. This one is definitely not well exposed- as are many, many others.

  7. Al Says:

    Every single post I have looked at of yours, has incorrect dates attached to google maps images. This is misleading and means that a lot of your statements are straight up bulldust. Percent of Kens posts that I have looked at with incorrect dates – 100%

  8. Al Says:

    Also, you have read the site standards all wrong mate. That 30m x 30m is for manned bureau enclosures or airports. And that 2018 document is for airports only.
    On the 2013 document, the standard is found at 3.6.4, however even that is recommended, not set in stone. Bureau staff can make decisions on a site by site basis, as they are trained to do just that.
    Anyhow, I think I’ve made my point.

  9. Bill In Oz Says:

    Well lying Al, as I live just around the corner I went & had another look see.. And took photos.. The BOM site at Mt Barker is identical to the way it was in July.. And NOT compliant….

    Ken I sent you the photos last week.

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  14. Bill In Oz Says:

    Well It’s 28th of May 2020.. I have just had another look at the Mt Barker BOM station. There have been no changes made to it. It is still NOT compliant with the BOM’s own guidelines. The ones based on the World Meteorological Office standards…

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