If, like me, you are a self-confessed weather nut, you probably check the weather radar every few minutes on stormy days. The closer the storm gets, the more often you refresh it. Will we sustain a direct hit, or will it skirt around the Brindabellas? According to Mrs Yowie, who regularly laments my weather obsession, my record for checking the radar is 167 times on a single afternoon.
But I'm not alone with my radar fixation. With radar apps on many smartphones, if rain is about, it's now commonplace at sporting events, whether it be at an under-10 netball tussle at Lyneham to Raiders clashes at Canberra Stadium, for spectators to regularly scrutinise the radar. You want to know when to make a run for the car or covered seating. Oh, and I'd like a dollar for every time a cricket commentator tries to interpret (usually incorrectly) a radar image during a rain break.
Having access to radar images has many benefits in rural areas such as farmers being able to fertilise their crops before an impending downpour, but the radar also has a range of practical uses in urban areas. When I plied my trade in the public service it wasn't unusual for my cycling colleagues to spend most of the last hour of a wet day, poring over the radar images, planning with military precision the timing of their pedal home. In fact, the IT boffins for the agency I worked for once claimed during stormy weather the Bureau of Meteorology radar page had more clicks than the department's own policy pages. Heaven forbid.
Given Canberrans obvious fascination with the weather, questions about the radar often lob into my inbox, including a missive this week from Tim Parkinson of Kambah, who asks many questions about the Canberra radar, including why it's located at Captains Flat and if you can actually visit the site.
Having never made the pilgrimage to see the radar, I needed little convincing to take a late autumn drive in the country.
After passing through the 'Flat (don't miss the great new mural on the amenities block), the radar is a 15 minute or so drive (4WD recommended) along the Mt Cowangerong fire trail that runs along the heavily forested spine of the Great Diving Range.
Despite its remote location, it's hard to miss the radar, which like a giant golf ball sits atop a 22 metre tall tee in a small clearing near the summit of Mt Cowangerong (1382 metres above sea level).
As you'd expect the radar buildings are designed to house highly specialised mechanical and electronic equipment and are locked-up in a secure compound, and while there's not much to do here except take a photo (oh, don't forget a golf stick for the obligatory photo), weather nerds will appreciate being able to tick a visit here off their bucket list of meteorological must-sees.
To help answer Kim's trickier questions about the radar, I tracked down Ann Farrell, NSW state manager with the bureau.
Why is the Canberra radar at Captains Flat?
According to Ann, radar sites are chosen for a number of reasons.
"Generally speaking, radars need to be slightly away from the communities they cover as they can't detect rainfall directly overhead," Ann says.
"They also need the surrounding skyline to be clear to prevent potential obstruction to the radar signal."
Technical requirements such as power, communication and construction also need to be considered.
How long has it been there?
The Captains Flat radar, the first for the Canberra region, was installed in 2003.
Why is the radar sometimes "unavailable"?
This is one of my beefs too. The radar always seems to go down when that big rain event is approaching but it turns out not all outages are unplanned.
"To ensure our radars are working to optimum capacity, we carry out two planned outages every year to undertake maintenance," Ann says.
"This program of work saw our radar fleet operational 97 per cent of the time during the 2017-18 financial year."
But yes, there are also unexpected outages.
"Like any piece of equipment with moving parts, radars can on occasion develop faults," Ann says.
"As you would expect, these are more commonly associated with the hardest working parts of the radar such as motors, gearboxes and transmitter components."
When the Canberra radar is "unavailable", which is the best alternative to turn to?
Australia has the fourth-largest weather radar network in the world, with more than 60 radars, but the curvature of the earth means that optimal range of a radar is between 5km and 200km. The closest radars to Canberra within that range are Wollongong and Wagga Wagga, and given most of Canberra's weather comes from the south-west, Ann advises the latter is usually the best alternative.
Can the radar be "wrong"?
The radar works be sending out electromagnetic waves in short pulses and when theses pulses hit water (or other) particles they reflect back to the radar much like echoes you hear in a cave. How long the pulses take to return determines the distance and their strength determines the intensity of the precipitation.
However, according to Ann, "the radar can pick up all sorts of other features, including smoke plumes from bushfires, wind farm turbines, insect swarms [heck, I'd like to see that!] and virga [rain that falls but doesn't reach the ground]".
On the flip-side, low level drizzle is sometimes not detected on the radar as droplets can be small below the radar beam.
One reader who has been closely following this column's ramblings about Environa, the abandoned 1930s housing estate near Tralee, is Rod Stone.
"Around 1929, Harry Halloran, the developer of Environa, employed my grandfather, Alfred Raymond Stone (Alf), to build the stone walls and other structures that can still be seen at Tralee," Rod says.
According to an account left by Rod's father, John Stone, "Alf worked with a man named Crowley to build a range of structures including walls, archways and large flower pots using hand mixed concrete (no Bunnings pre-mix back then) and smooth river stones."
After the Environa project collapsed, Rod reports that "Halloran went back up to the mid-north coast and settled in Tanilba, near Port Stephens where he purchased Tanilba House, and where in 1931 he again employed Alf Stone to construct a range of concrete and stone structures."
Rod also reveals visitors to the NSW town can still admire one of these structures, the "Tanilba Temple", musing "seems old Harry had a liking for monuments".
Several readers have solved the mystery of the cordoned-off end of Binns Place in Fraser, which is complete with bitumen, kerb and guttering.
"When I moved to Fraser in 1983 the area stretching from Binns Pl to Kerrigan St was marked for future development as a golf course," Jill Clark reports.
"We always assumed that the end of Binns Pl was to be the planned club house site."
Jill's theory is backed-up of Rob Gutterson who moved to Fraser back in 1976.
"My wife and I actually signed up as potential members of the golf club," Rob says.
"But unfortunately the project never advanced beyond the planning stage."
However, the ghost road has provided some benefit to the local community. Before the end of Binns Place was closed to traffic, Jill says "it served as an early learner driver course to be mastered by many Fraser drivers before they ventured out into the wider streets and traffic".
WHERE IN CANBERRA?
Cryptic Clue: Near northside High School
Degree of difficulty: Hard
Last week: Congratulations to Andrew Bajkowski of Turner who was the first reader to correctly identify last week's photo (below) as the site of the former Orroral Tracking Station in Namadgi National Park.
Andrew just beat Julie Nimmo of Kambah, Beth Sloane of Scullin and Robert Heacock to the prize. Special note to James Lybrand, usually of Campbell, but who submitted an entry from Juffair in the Kingdom of Bahrain where he is currently on assignment, and also to Rhys Dennewald of Theodore who reveals "one of the pieces of equipment at Orroral was called SATAN (Satellite Automatic Tracking Antenna)".
Several readers, including Markus Buchhorn, recognised the clue of "excitable kangaroos" as referencing a "viral video of a skydiver who was set upon by kangaroos at Orroral a few months back." Karl Smith of Fisher reports this animal behaviour contrasts with the memories of a Kiwi called Ted Barnes who worked there some 50 years ago. "I got a big fright one day nearly hitting a big kangaroo that was warming its feet standing in the middle of the road. It was not in any hurry to move so there were some serious black marks laid down," recalls Ted on the honeysucklecreek.net website.
Meanwhile, David Hanzl reports that after Orroral's dishes were decommissioned (1984) but before they were removed in 1990, "the location was occasionally used as an exercise site by Defence personnel to 'practice planning for defending complex urban/industrial locations'." Heck.
Don't Miss: Next weekend (June 15), the Canberra Bushwalking Club is running a come-and-try-it 4-hour walk in the Orroral Valley hosted by Canberra's bushwalking icon, John Evans, whose blog which details over 1200 walks in the region, recently featured on these pages. Call John to book: 0417 436877.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to email@example.com. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday 8 June, 2019 will win a double pass to Dendy - The Home of Quality Cinema.
It might not be as tall as the Captains Flat radar, but high country aficionado Matthew Higgins likes to refer to this rock feature in Namadgi's Gudgenby Valley as the "Devil's Golf Ball".