The quality and reliability of some weather forecasts would diminish and could put the public at risk under a plan to end local forecasting services in WA and most other states, and move to a centralised unit based in Melbourne and Brisbane, according to the Community and Public Sector Union.
More than 200 forecasters across the country were told last week about the plan to centralise local forecasting in the two major centres by 2020 — which the union claims is the biggest shake-up to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) in 110 years.
The move follows a long-running pay dispute which left frosty relations between staff and head office at the bureau.
The union representing bureau staff said they were "horrified" by the plan, under which up to 40 forecasters in Perth would be affected.
"We'll lose between 30 and 40 highly skilled, highly trained forecasters who are very aware of conditions in WA, the vast land mass that we have," CPSU organiser Melanie Booth said.
"They have built up their experience about that and weather patterns here for a good 10 to 15 years some of them, if not more.
"It's going to be a brain drain and it's going to mean the quality of the service will be hugely reduced."
Bushfires and cyclone forecast accuracy impacted: union
Ms Booth said forecasters feared a centralised service could put WA communities at risk during extreme weather events such as bushfires and cyclones.
"Local fire conditions will be handled from Melbourne and Brisbane," she said.
"If there is more than one major incident happening across Australia, which is a pretty large land mass, then the fear is that the bigger population centres will get the attention first.
"The other thing is the nuances of people knowing in time for evacuating and things like that — there's fewer controls over that.
She said the oil and gas industry in particular relied on knowing if there was even a small risk of cyclones hitting their infrastructure.
The union said it was unclear if jobs would be cut or if West Australian staff would be asked to relocate.
"Highly trained staff, you don't replicate them overnight," Ms Booth said.
"If they choose not to relocate then there's going to be a net loss of those skills in the Bureau of Meteorology.
"This is actually the biggest change to the way (BOM) is organised and how they provide their services to the Australian public in 110 years."
Bureau denies jobs to go
In a statement, the BOM said it was consulting with staff on the "proposed transformation" and was committed to providing localised expertise to each state and territory.
"Claims of cost-cutting and job losses are simply untrue and there are no plans to remove the bureau's local presence from any state or territory," the statement said.
"A proposed new approach to improve services, which is being discussed in consultation with staff, customers and stakeholders, would involve general forecasting services moving to specialised hubs, allowing locally-based staff more time to provide specialist expertise to key state sectors such as emergency services, agriculture and energy.
"A further benefit would be the creation of new teams of experts focussed on providing advice on the key natural hazards which affect life and property."