Tag Archives: weather

Back into life as we know it

After all the travel dramas, life has fizzled out to its pretty boring routine. Except for the rain. 2017 will go down as a ‘feast or famine’ result in the rain gauge. Was it only this year that we bolted back home from Northern Queensland with tropical cyclone Debbie on our tail? After receiving only 26mm in January and February, which are supposed to be our wetter months, Debbie dumped 390mm in March. But after she’d emptied herself, the skies dried up. Winter is always the ‘dry’ here in Hervey Bay, but this was a drought. The grass (I couldn’t possibly call it a lawn) went brown, and even my large rosemary bush turned up its toes.

After the rain there’s a rainbow – and that’s the TV aerial

The rain was waiting for us when we got home from Europe. In the space of 3 weeks in October we had 561mm, and in November we had another 235mm. That’s about 32 inches in the old measure – Perth doesn’t get much more than that in a year. La Nina has arrived and we’re looking ahead at a long wet season. We’re not really complaining – that’s life in the sub-tropics. But I’ll have a little complain. The weeds, of course, burst out of dormancy long before the grass, and mowing was out of the question – the ride-on would have sunk down to its axles in the mud in a few minutes. As soon as the ground had dried a little the mower decided it was time for a refit. New blades and new bearings were (eventually) obtained. This is Queensland, after all. And the jungle was kind of tamed.

That’s not a permanent water feature

That long drought meant we had a large contingent of birds arriving at the pool fence for evening apple juice and a turn in the bird bath, and the predator birds were grateful for some uncooked bacon rind. When the rains came, everybody dispersed to their natural food sources, although we’d always get a few locals popping in. It’s been a while since we’ve had a four o’clock line-up, though.

The possum in his house

Not long after we came home we noticed a commotion from the local birds, who don’t like seeing the possum during the day. There he was, peering out of his house while all the birds screeched at him. He lives in a large hollow log which Pete had fitted with a roof and a base, and then tied to a palm tree. I suspect he was trying to tell us something, because that was when we noticed the base of the house lying under the tree. So that had to be fixed so he could move back in.

We have a pair of pee wees (magpie larks) in our yard. They decided that the TV aerial on top of the house would be a great place to build their beautiful mud nest. (See top picture) While they’re great builders, they’re sloppy and the roof under the construction site was a mess of twigs and mud. It’s also a lousy place to build a nest – no protection from sun and rain, and the eggs would be easy pickings for a crow or kookaburra. Pete hosed the nest down several times, but the birds persevered. So he rigged up fishing line to deter them. It worked – for two days, by which time they moved the construction up the aerial. But Pete is persistent, too. The aerial is now devoid of nest and festooned with fishing line, which appears to have had the added advantage of deterring the crows.

Lorikeets and their natural food

Our lovely local kookaburra

I’m glad to say after the health dramas plaguing us in Europe we’re all better. I’m thinking about starting a new book, but we’ll see. In the meantime I’ve been amusing myself playing Solitaire, and messing about with Photoshop. I’ll leave you with my latest creation. See you next week.

Say hello to TC Debbie

The Coral Sea from Palm Cove

We’ve just come back from FNQ (Far North Queensland), after spending a week at Peppers Palm Cove resort, just north of Cairns. Normally I’d write about the trip and what we saw and experienced, but this time, I’ll start at the end, because the trip was cut short. You see, Debbie decided to visit.

When we arrived at Palm Cove, which is right on the beach, the view was gorgeous, as shown above. It’s a tropical climate, so cumulus stacks gather above the warm ocean, maybe moving inland for an afternoon rain squall. Standing out there gazing at the sea the sweat trickles down your skin. A swim would be nice, but the air is still and the ocean bath-tub warm – perfect for marine stingers. The crocs don’t mind, either, so you either swim in the stinger enclosure at the beach or use the pool at the hotel, which has a swim-up bar. It might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s such a waste of a beautiful beach.

It has been a strange summer all over Queensland from a weather point of view. Rain has fallen inland, the monsoon arrived late in the North, and around the sub-tropical Fraser Coast where we live, we’ve not seen such a savage drought. While we were up in the tropics we heard that Cyclone Caleb had been declared – only the third of the season! I don’t know why we thought it was in the Coral Sea, where we were, but it was actually far out to sea off the coast of Western Australia.

Maybe that mistake turned out to be prophetic.

On our second-last day at Palm Cove that idyllic beach scene looked like this.

A rain storm out sea

A massive rainstorm hung over the ocean on the horizon. And then we heard the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) was keeping a whether eye on a deepening low off the Queensland coast. We weren’t surprised. The sea’s always warm up here, but I’d heard thirty degrees. Maybe the coral reefs were praying for rain to cool them down. Standing on the beach it was easy to imagine some massive beast out there beyond the horizon, hovering over the ocean, sucking up moisture, swelling and strengthening. The clouds scudded by driven by a brisk south-easter, drawn into the dance around the as-yet-nameless storm. By evening her name was Debbie and our proposed visit to Cooktown, north of Cairns, was scratched. Cyclones are unpredictable beasts. Models showed Debbie heading for landfall in an area about 750 kilometres wide, but if she decided to veer north, Cooktown might be in the way. Even if she didn’t, we might reach Cooktown, but extensive flooding further south would make it a long, slow road home. And with predictions of Debbie becoming a high category four, or even a cat five before she crossed the coast, there would be flooding. This is a good explanation of cyclones.

Experiencing a full-blown tropical cyclone isn’t an item on my bucket list, but we figured we didn’t have to run for it straight away. We had one more day at Palm Cove – a Friday. The BOM wasn’t expecting the storm to hit the coast until Tuesday, and gales were not forecast until Sunday afternoon. If we left early on Saturday morning, we should be able to clear the danger area and make it home by Sunday night. On our way home we had intended to stay for a couple of days with a friend living high on the hill above Airlie Beach, roughly halfway to Hervey Bay from here. We’d have to cut the visit short, but he would understand. It seemed like a plan.

Ominous sky on Saturday

It rained heavily at Palm Cove on Friday night, but the next morning was dry, if ominous. The further we went, the clearer the sky became, at least as far as Townsville. From there on small patches of cloud appeared, all heading north like a flock of sheep being herded by an invisible sheep dog riding the wind.

Airlie Beach from our friend’s balcony

Airlie Beach in a good time

Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, a cluster of island holiday destinations dotted around the Coral Sea with the Great Barrier Reef at their doorstep. The anchorage is usually full of boats, but not this time. Maybe a dozen moorings were occupied when we arrived at our friend’s place. The next morning there were about six – probably owned by people down south. The evening was warm and relatively calm enough to eat outside but as the hours passed, the wind picked up. When we went to bed we left the window open to get some breeze – at least for a little while. Maybe because of the way the building was constructed, the breeze growled like an animal looking for a way in, probing any crevice with fingers of air. With each gust the growl became a howl and every now and then, with a shriek of triumph, the wind burst through, sending the drapes flapping like a torn spinnaker. We were forced to close the window and turn on the fan, but even so, the wind entity prowled around the building, testing its defences, its howl underscored by the steady rhythm of the ceiling fan.

It wasn’t the best nights’ sleep either of us had experienced. We hit the road early, anxious to avoid any chance of striking floodwater. We had expected the highway would be busy with other people heading south, especially caravans, but the road was surprisingly quiet. We saw quite a few emergency crews heading north, mobilised by the State Government for the expected damage. We also heard that people in low lying areas in Debbie’s path had been ordered to evacuate – including homes in the lower parts of Airlie Beach.

We stopped twice at shopping centres, busy with people stocking up on canned food, water, and supplies like batteries. It was all very business-like, but then, cyclones are part of life in North Queensland, and while they are destructive, they also have an important role to play in the ebbs and flows of the environment up there. Floods feed the wetlands and the aquifers that get the farmers through the dry times, and the rain cools down the sea temperatures on the Great Barrier Reef. I wondered how farm animals would fare in the storm, and a farmer interviewed on the radio said he’d moved his poddy calves in close to the homestead, but that the cows seemed to know how to cope. I’m certain the birds and animals do, too. During our day out on Friday we noticed the birds were scarce. On the other hand, farmers growing cane, bananas, or vegetables would be keeping their fingers crossed. A cat 4 cyclone packs winds up to 279kph, and a cat 5 is (of course) even worse.

We turned into our driveway at home just in time to watch the sunset on Sunday. We’re safe and comfortable. Our very best wishes to everyone in Debbie’s path. Stay safe. Like they say on the radio, cyclones rarely kill people. Downed power lines and floodwaters certainly do.

 

 

 

 

Christmas in the Darling Downs

5V3A4074We usually stay home for Christmas. Prawns on the barbie, a nibble of smoked salmon, dips ‘n chips and a glass of wine or three over a game of Scrabble suit me just fine. But this year we decided to go away so somebody else could do the food preparation and the washing up. We threaten to do that most years, but we always leave it too late. Christmas lunch preparations have to start early. As it happens, we found a motel with a restaurant in Warwick at rather short notice (December). That sounded suspicious, and a phone call ascertained that the restaurant wouldn’t be open. Not to worry. It seemed the locals all went to the local Chinese on Christmas day. It was the only show in town, so the owners weren’t exactly silly. I made a booking for 12:30, we jumped in the new SUV and headed off.

Warwick is one of the larger towns in an area known as the Darling Downs. This means, obviously, that it’s much higher than the Queensland coastal fringe. (English is such an idiotic language) Because of the elevation, it’s much cooler than the coast, too – which was part of the attraction. Stanthorpe, another of the larger towns, is almost always the coldest place in Queensland. We’d been in Warwick once, many years ago, and the memory of the very cold night and the ice on the car windows lingers.

Because of the milder climate the Darling Downs is famous for its wineries, cheese and fruit. Up there they can grow apples, pears, stone fruits, berries and cherries. Everybody has cellar door sales, and restaurants or cafes. Don’t go up there for those things at Christmas time, though. On Christmas day we could have shot a cannon down Warwick’s main street and not hit anything. Boxing Day wasn’t much better.

The other thing the Darling Downs does very well is storms. Rising air from the coast mixes with the cooler air and if you add a deep depression threatening to become a cyclone hovering around up in the tropics it was a perfect cocktail for another one of those regular storms. On the way to Warwick we listened to the weather bureau warnings about a large storm around Stanthorpe. It delivered tennis ball sized hail and gale force winds. One farmer’s entire strawberry crop was completely wiped out, and trees were stripped of branches and leaves, or torn out of the ground altogether. We were told that in other spots the hail wasn’t as large, but it coated the ground like a thick blanket of snow. The farmers factor storm losses into their budgets here. The picture below was of another storm.

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5V3A4054There’s a tornado in there, on the horizon. I’ve done a close up for you. This happened every day. Even when the weather started off fine, by late afternoon the clouds had gathered around the hills, piling up into ominous moving mountains.

Lunch at the Chinese was fun from a people-watching point of view. They’d prepared a buffet offering fresh prawns and oysters, and a range of Chinese food like Mongolian lamb, braised seafood and (because this is Australia) sweet and sour pork. The sweets table boasted a large pavlova, fruit salad, a huge bowl of local cherries, and a large store-bought tub of vanilla ice cream.  The place was packed with families. Mum and dad and the kids, older couples with their parents – probably collected from their aged care centre – all enjoying lunch together. Although the place is licensed few people ordered much more than a mid strength beer.

On the day before Christmas we took a drive up into the hills surrounding the downs. That’s where most of the rain falls onto ancient, eroding hills. From Killarney you drive up Falls Road past a number of waterfalls within short walks of the road. The clouds hung around the tops of the hills, stretching ephemeral fingers down the slopes.

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Queen Mary Falls – at the top

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Queen Mary Falls all the way down

From the top of the pass the view across the valley is spectacular. It’s sobering to think that the forest we drove through to get to this lookout would have covered that whole valley one hundred and fifty years ago. From there, we drove down to the plain and then back up again via Cunningham Gap. This part of the trip was my favourite. I love water. Maybe that’s because I’m a Scorpio?

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The view from Carr’s lookout

There a number of national parks within an hour’s drive of Warwick and Stanthorpe. The one with Falls Road is Main Range.

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Rain forest

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Rainforest tree ferns

5V3A4086 5V3A4113 5V3A4107Then there’s Girraween and Sundown, which illustrate why this part of the world is known as the “granite belt”. The forest is much the same as you’d find anywhere in Australia – dry sclerophyll forest. But many of the peaks are bare rock and if you look between the trees you’ll see rounded boulders everywhere, some balanced on top of each other. Others appear to be held back from the track only by a slim eucalypt. We walked along a made track to a waterhole which you can bet would have been popular with the aboriginal people back in the day.

 

 

 

 

 

The road down to the plain

The road down to the plain

We meandered our way home to Hervey Bay via Toowoomba. Just in case you thought I was kidding about the height of this area, this is the main road to Brisbane from the Downs.

From there we skirted around the glass house mountains back home. We’ll do another visit to that area some time next year, after the school holidays.

A summer storm

A cumulus tower

A cumulus tower

Summer storms are a fact of life where I live. They seem to pop up out of a clear blue sky. This one is no exception. I hear it first, a low rumble in the distance outside my window. There it is, a vast cumulus tower, its curves bright white in the sun. A look at the radar shows we’ll probably be in its path.

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Here it comes

When the sky grows dark I go outside to watch its progress. The soaring thunderclouds are invisible now, the sky a uniform deep grey blanket except for that ragged leading edge, like fingers dragging a cloak of cloud in their wake. Lightning flashes all around me, sometimes high up in the cloud, making it light up inside, sometimes a spear of brilliance stabbing into the ground.

I count the seconds for the thunder. One… two… and then the rolling bouncing rumble like a bowling ball in the gutter. Or the sharp ear-bursting cymbal crash followed by a drum roll.

The very air is electric, making my skin tingle. There is no wind down here, but there is up there. The finger fragments have passed me, now heading for the sea. Now the first heavy drops of rain begin to fall, leaving a polka dot pattern on the hot paving. And with the rain comes the wind, bending the palm trees and swirling around the veranda.

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Lightning now well out to sea

I retreat under cover and watch the sky show as the storm surrounds us with noise and fury. Bolt after bolt of lightning hurtles down, thunder bangs and crashes while the rain beats down with an added timpani of hail.

The seconds between the lightning bolts and the thunder lengthen. The storm is gone almost as quickly as it developed, leaving 22mm of rain in as many minutes.

Not long after, the sun breaks through, bright as a searchlight on the trees. Of course there’ll be a rainbow. And there is, along with a brilliant sunset.

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