Drought, fire – now flood

posted in: Life and things, Photography | 0

It’s great to know that the last of the fires burning in New South Wales and Victoria are finally out. It was a truly horrendous fire season which will be etched into many peoples’ souls. Those of us not directly affected will still remember the images of kangaroos silhouetted against a glowing red sky, flames towering above treetops, fire tornadoes – and the death and destruction.

But now, the Indian Ocean Dipole and the Southern Annular Mode, which together were responsible for the prolonged drought preceding the fires, have altered to a pattern which brings rain.

And rain is what we’ve had. Cyclone Damien did major damage to Karratha, a north-west town used to cyclones. Downgraded to a rain depression after it crossed the coast, the remains of Damien dumped much-needed rain on a parched outback.

Cyclone Esther formed in the Gulf of Carpentaria and crossed the coast as a tropical low. But since then it has meandered over to the west coast, then come back and tracked south-east, bringing flooding rains to the central interior of the continent. I’ll admit it made me grin to read flood watch warnings for the Simpson Desert, the Tanami Desert, the Sandy Desert, and the Central Desert. That’s not a common occurrence. The Todd River, a dry river bed in Alice Springs, is flowing and the locals have turned out to watch.

I’ve only heard of that happening once or twice before in my life, when the Henley-on-Todd regatta had to be cancelled – because there was water in the river. Normally it’s more like this.

Rivers are flooded everywhere, with many places receiving record rainfall. Sure, there’s been damage, but on the whole the farmers and graziers aren’t complaining. And as the water sinks into the sand the aquifers are being replenished for the next inevitable drought.

Not that any of this is new. Drought, fire, flood – the cycles carry on as they have for millennia. Australia is a land of extremes.

A few years ago Pete and I went on a drive around Australia. We headed north-west then across to the west coast and down. On the way from Kununurra to Broome (a ten-hour drive) we made a stop-over for the night at Fitzroy Crossing, a town on the Fitzroy River. Most Australian rivers are seasonal – flowing in the rainy season, a chain of puddles at drier times. Even so, bridges have to cater for the rainy season – and for the northern rivers, that means a raging torrent.

This picture is of the bridge over the Fitzroy in the Dry.

And this picture is of the 2011 flood, a picture posted in the visitor’s centre.

To give a bit of context here’s a shot from Google Earth showing the town in the Dry. In the flooded photo the airstrip is obvious, and the bridge is just to the right of the camera flash above the text.

Oh – and that road from Kununurra to Broome? There aren’t a lot of bitumen roads in that part of the world. This year, it’s flooded. Authorities have pleaded with people not to take a chance on a flooded road. “If it’s flooded, forget it” The power of the water will float off a 4WD easily and if you’re trapped in flood water – there are crocs up there waiting for a canned lunch. That means you’ll have to consider a detour. But if you’re looking to stay on the bitumen, it’s a fair way.

And just one more – be careful in dry creek beds. When the rains come, they fill up amazingly fast. Just like this.

Back at home we’ve had the wettest February since we moved here twelve years ago – 360mm or so. The rain has made us very happy, and the plants are pleased, too. They’re all in a growing race, with the weeds winning by the proverbial country mile. The mosquitoes have been in a breeding frenzy and there are swarms of the little black buggers, all looking for a feed. This tends to make gardening a hazardous pastime. But at least everything’s green.

Enjoy your weekend, folks. We have enough toilet paper to get us through the next few weeks. And I doubt we’ll go hungry. Here’s hoping the flu doesn’t catch up with any of you.

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