Australia Weather News

Gabriel Branescu speaks four languages, has lived on four continents, guided Soviet-made MiG fighter jets on sorties over Eastern Europe and safely landed expeditioners on an ice runway at Casey Station in Antarctica.

He grew up in the shadow of Dracula's castle in Transylvania, a distant mountainous region of the former socialist republic of Romania — a country still steeped in obscurity and seemingly frozen in time.

So how did he end up on the other side of the world as a meteorologist in Brisbane?

A desire to learn about tropical weather and severe storm forecasting brought Mr Branescu to Australia seven years ago.

It has been a long journey to sub-tropical Queensland, but he is about to experience his first summer in the Sunshine State and the extreme weather that goes with it.

Mr Branescu was raised on a family farm in the Carpathian Mountains, near the Transylvanian city of Brasov.

The farm is close to the imposing and dramatic 14th-century Bran Castle, one-time royal residence of Vlad the Impaler, who provided the inspiration for Bram Stoker's gothic horror novel, Dracula.

Life was hard for most in Romania in the 1970s under the oppressive communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

When not helping on the family farm, he spent his childhood wandering the forests around Dracula's castle.

"I was always looking up to the sky, not like people these days always looking down at their phones," he said.

"I would go up into the forest in the winter and it could be very scary with the wolves howling and the bears roaming the woods.

"When you have a full moon it's even scarier with the castle sitting there, perched on the hilltop like a dark shadow over our farm."

It was in those forests that a passion for the weather took root.

"I had a journal and I would lie down in the forest and look up at the clouds for hours and draw the cloud shape, and then I would write what type of weather was related to that sort of cloud," he said.

"I was only five or six years old and it was fascinating, and I said to myself, this is really interesting, I could do this for a job."

When he was old enough he left the farm and joined the Romanian Air Force, training as an aviation meteorologist.

"It was an exciting part of my life, basically sitting in the tower and guiding Soviet-made MiG-21 jets through the skies of Romania," Mr Branescu said.

At the age of 32, a desire to keep learning about other weather environments led Mr Branescu to emigrate to Canada with his family.

"The weather has a massive impact on life in Canada — I was trying to forecast crazy winter snow storms, measuring the amount of freezing rain that could drag down power lines," he said.

Time to flee the cold

When his son began to face health problems, the family sought out a warmer climate, bringing Mr Branescu to a job with the Bureau of Meteorology in Darwin in 2011.

"It was a massive culture shock for my family arriving from Canada to Darwin, where it was so laid-back and tropical."

While living in Darwin, he managed to perform another climatic back flip, fitting in a six-month stint in Antarctica.

"I was missing the snow," he said.

"You have to make such drastic decisions about the weather in Antarctica, it's unpredictable."

His job was to guide the planes bringing scientists into Casey Station for research missions.

"I would have to give them a three-hour window in that terrible weather to land safely on an ice runway — we're talking about lives — and there's no other place for that plane to land safely.

"Sometimes flights would be delayed for a week and the whole mission, the science would get behind … you need to respect that environment, or you could die."

Three months ago, the chance to forecast Queensland's severe storms lured him to Brisbane.

"This is the next chapter in my life, forecasting severe storms, super cells and hail — I'm always looking for weather adventures and challenges," he said.

"You don't need to have grown up in Australia or Queensland to be able to forecast the weather here … the technology, the science and expertise is universal."

He said the biggest challenge now facing forecasters was the high expectation of the community.

"It's big pressure, people want to know the forecast 10 days out, and that's very difficult," he said.

"People are very tough on forecasters — we are not gods."

Mr Branescu said he expected to one day complete his lap of the world and return to the forests of Transylvania.

"I find such peace in those forests — I'll lie on my back again and look at those clouds."

ABC