Stormchaser! The continuing adventures of @cycloneupdate
Cyclone geek: Redlynch weather watcher Carl Butcher. Picture: Marc McCormack.
Carl Butcher became an international Twitter sensation as Yasi came calling. The IT whizz-cum-roller derby referee-cum-cyclone chaser reveals his plans for this year's storm season.
The first major cyclone I experienced was Justin, a big storm in 1997 that made landform as a category 2 and caused significant damage around Cairns.
Ever since I’ve been fascinated by the sheer power and the awesome intensity of severe storms. I’m not an expert but I love following the rawness of mother nature.
The worst storms I’ve experienced were Steve and Rhona, which caused extensive flooding and lots of damage in Cairns.
From my point of view the internet is the best invention the world has yet seen. Twitter and Facebook allow everyone to get their opinion across and report events from different angles. Today 3G is prevalent everywhere, Telstra’s network covers 99 per cent of the country, so anyone can be a citizen journalist.
I started twitter.com/cycloneupdate when cyclone Hamish was threatening the Queensland coast. I began by simply posting the latest Bureau of Meteorology cyclone updates. In the beginning people actually though I was the official BoM.
I had built up about 400 followers by the time cyclone Tasha crossed the coast south of Gordonvale on Christmas Day 2010. I was on holiday in Sydney and was really annoyed to have missed it!
As January 2011 rolled around I was discovering more and more long-term weather forecasting resources and began understanding a bit more of the science behind predicting and tracking storms.
As Yasi approached on February 2, I decided not to evacuate and tweeted my plans to bunker down in my DIY shelter and cover the storm’s arrival live.
A journalist at The Australian picked up my tweet and wrote a quick story, and within minutes my Twitter followers started increasing dramatically.
By the time Yasi crossed the coast I had picked up 10,000 followers.
My tweets that night led to me being nominated for a Pride of Australia Community Service Award: my nominator Soula said she was getting more information from me than the BoM.
I pulled information from every possible resource and retweeted the latest reports from across Far North Queensland.
This season I am taking the show on the road, getting on the ground when it is safe to do so. I don’t want to put my life at risk, but when it’s safe I want to get out on the road and do some live reporting.
I’ve set my car up with a webcam and laptop and have bought an inverter so I can broadcast live and continue updating as long as I have power and fuel.
I’m aiming to cover any cyclones impacting the coast between Townsville and Port Douglas: wherever reasonable.
I’ve got a little Go Pro HD video camera strapped to my car dashboard which records excellent footage. If I get out into a storm this season I can strap this camera to my roller derby helmet, which will offer me some protection (if not the camera).
Do I get scared? There is real danger in a severe weather event. But providing you are as prepared as you can be and are in a shelter when the storm hits, it’s just a matter of sitting things out. Just as you don’t go driving without a seatbelt. you wouldn’t sit out a cyclone on your patio.
>> Follow Carl Butcher’s weather updates at twitter.com/cycloneupdate