Tag Archives: cyclone

Waiting for Oma

This “wet season” has turned out to be a pretty dry season. No, a VERY dry season. In previous posts I’ve mentioned we had 1mm of rain in January. So far in February the rain gods have managed 35.5mm, which is slightly less than two tenths of bugger all in this part of the world. I’ll show you what I mean. This graph shows cumulative rainfall per month per year over the last ten years. 2019 is that tiny yellow bump at the bottom.

Mind you, these things can change very quickly hereabouts. Townsville, which is usually a pretty dry place nicknamed ‘brownsville’ was absolutely flooded just a few weeks ago. I mentioned those floods a couple of weeks ago in the post entitled ‘a typical Australian summer‘. We did ask nicely if they’d share, and I’m sure they would have been delighted to oblige but it doesn’t work that way. Townsville is about 1,100km north of Hervey Bay, so the system would have had to come down the coast to reach us. It didn’t. It moved out to sea, where it became Tropical Cyclone Oma.

When the old lady (Oma means grandma in Dutch) started moving towards Hervey Bay we got all excited. Not that we particularly wanted all the wind and such, but we did like the idea of rain.  Mind you, Oma was a cat 3 at its worst, then downgraded to a 2, but it’s wise not to underestimate the power of a cyclone.

Here’s the Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM) best guesses for the cyclone’s track on the 19th.

This is a very good indication of how well the weather bureau, with all its fancy computers and wonderful algorithms, can predict the path of a cyclone. In this diagram the most likely path takes it round about through Fraser Island.

We got a cyclone warning and everything. Expect over 100mm of rain per day for the next several days, perhaps more. Clean up your yard, empty your gutters, make sure you have emergency supplies in case you’re cut off and/or there are power outages.

Emergency supplies

So we bought a couple of cans of baked beans, a packet of mixed nuts, Cadbury’s favourites, and stocked up on Scotch. Then we tidied up the yard. Pete took garden refuse to the tip and we put away our garden furniture and anything else that might have turned into a projectile.

The wind picked up on Thursday afternoon, but the clouds scudding up the coast from the south missed us – and most other people’s properties.

On Friday morning the BOM’s cyclone chart looked like this. Oma looks as though she’s going to stall and then head north again, well out to sea. If she does cross, they’re guessing poor old Townsville and Cairns which have both had quite sufficient for this wet season, thanks all the same, will be in for a little bit more inundation.

So… we’ve still had no rain. Windy and dry is very hard on plants and many of ours are suffering.

If any of you are in to pagan rituals, offerings to the rain gods, naked dancing, weird chants and whathaveyou, any offerings or supplications on our behalf would be gratefully accepted.

Seems to me if all the meteorologists were given a coloured marker and then blindfolded and asked to put a dot or several on a map of Queensland, they might well have ended up with a similar result to those projection charts. And although I know ‘weather’ and ‘climate’ are two different things, if the algorithms they use to predict one cyclone’s path are in any way analogous to the climate models that predict the climate in one hundred years’ time… well, make your own conclusions.

I remember years ago watching a wonderful documentary about the Chaos theory (entitled ‘Chaos’). It talked about the development of the mathematics around fractals, and the work of Benoit Mandelbrot whose name was given to the basic mathematical formula that produces the wonderful patterns (the Mandelbrot set). In the early days, computers were used for weather forecasts. Even then, when the best of computers weren’t a match for the processing power of the phone in your pocket, a computer did a faster, more accurate job than a human. The algorithms were complex and calculated figures to nine or ten (or something) decimal points. One day something went wrong and the forecasters lost their data, although they did have the final results. They re-entered the figures, using only three decimal places. The results they obtained were vastly different to what they got from the raw figures, which led to the question ‘why’ that leads most ground-breaking science. Which goes to show that tiny fluctuations can make huge differences. The plotting for cyclones is a great illustration of that truth.

Fascinating stuff.

Oh – and I’ve nearly finished that book.

 

 

Welcome to December

Here it is December already. Who’d a thunk? Actually, one giveaway is the faux snow in windows, a fat guy with a red coat on having his picture taken with kiddies, and endless repeats of Bing’s dreaming of a white Christmas. Good luck with that in Queensland, old man. Then again, in places the country is covered in white – but that’s ash from bushfires.

We live near that large island at the bottom of the photo. Taken by the Himawari 8 Japanese weather satellite

This has been a freakish week or two weatherwise. A thick blanket of snow (yes, real snow) fell in the Australian Alps. Sydney received 120mm (a little less than six inches) of rain in a day, causing flooding. Up North in drought-ravaged Queensland bushfires are burning out of control. Something like one hundred and forty fires, fuelled by the tinder-dry bush and urged along by strong winds. The fires are very similar to those which ravaged California last month. The BIG difference is that the area under threat in Australia is sparsely populated, so while vast swathes are burnt/burning, fewer properties are affected.

Hats off to the magnificent people who fight these monster fires. So far, only one man has died – killed by a falling tree in a back-burning operation. But thousands have been evacuated and a handful of homes have been destroyed. The fires are rated as ‘catastrophic’ – which means they can’t be controlled. Weather conditions have worsened today, with hot, dry winds fanning the flames. And there has been looting. Low-life scum.

There’s no sign of rain in our region any time soon – although a cyclone is forming off the Solomon Islands, predicted to head our way in the coming days.  That’ll be out of the frying pan into the washing machine, and the risk all the top soil will be washed away. According to the current predictions (always a dicey business with tropical cylones) it won’t hit the coast until later in the week.

And that’s all I have for this week.  Have a good weekend – or what’s left of it.

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.