Tag Archives: weather

The Goldilocks years

This one wasn’t too bad 2018 – sound and fury and 15mm of rain

Rainfall can be such a hit-and-miss business in Australia. I can’t remember the last time when it was a non-issue; that is, not too little, not too much – just right. Remember Goldilocks? Even going back to my childhood in Perth, we watched and waited for the winter rains to fill the hollows in the hills and set the little streams running to fill the dams. If the winter rains were late, the level of angst would rise. It’s a Mediterranean climate over there, so every year, summer is dry. There might be an occasional summer storm, usually associated with the remains of a cyclone up north, but that’s a rarity. As summer approached in Perth, I’d pack up my jeans, my winter woollies, and my umbrella, confident I wouldn’t need them until around March. Maybe. If the winter rains had failed, we’d be up for water restrictions, too.

Mind you, I remember one year, around the late seventies(?) when it rained and rained and bloody rained to the extent that we wished for a break. Every day of every week for pretty much all of July and August the skies were grey and the streets sodden. We weren’t used to it and it affected everyone’s moods. The winter blues wasn’t normally a big thing in Perth. We had our rain days but every once in a while, you’d get calm, clear, cold days full of sunshine to brighten the spirits. But not that year. It was probably one of the few years where the dams actually overflowed, a much-celebrated event.

When I left Perth I went to live in Greendale, a little rural spot in the Pentland Hills west of Melbourne. I had imagined it would be wetter than Perth, being further south and all that. I was wrong, At the time, average rainfall was around 700mm to Perth’s 733mm. The rainfall pattern wasn’t the same, either. Although most rain falls in the winter months, rain can fall any time of the year. The first year we lived in Greendale the rains were good. I don’t know if my moving over to Victoria had anything to do with it, but 1996 was the start of a long period of drought. Since we relied on tank water for all our needs, we started keep daily rainfall figures in 2003.

You’ll see back then the average was taken to be around 700mm but the closest we came in those years was 600mm in 2004. The monthly graph shows how random the rainfall was by month. Feb 2005, Oct 2004 and Dec 2006 were boom months. Those pale blue columns that form a wave? That’s the BOM averages. The actual figures are nothing like as predictable.

Over here in sub-tropical Queensland it’s a bit different. We’re supposed to get our rain in summer, or what we optimistically call the wet season. Our winters are warm and dry, and cool at night. It’s perfect for long walks along the beach, with little wavelets lapping at your feet. The tourists up here from Victoria, or from Europe, go swimming or lie on the sand sunbathing. It’s too cold for us locals to go into the water but it’s a lovely time of year.

Winter at the day. with tourists

But if the dry goes on too long, we watch the sky, or more often these days, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) radar maps. Being within cooee of the coast, our average rainfall here is rather higher than either Perth or Greendale, coming in it at 1,062mm. But once again, we found that the Goldilocks years were few and far between.

That’s how it is in Australia – if you’re not having a flood, you’re having a drought. It all depends on whether el Niño or la Niña is affecting the weather in the Pacific, and what’s happening with the Indian Ocean dipole index. As for this year – it’s not looking good for a decent wet season.

Here’s our rainfall graph for the last 10 years. Up and down like a prostitute’s drawers.

Here are the figures by month.

Once again, apart from saying it doesn’t rain as much in winter, what’s to say? In 2012 unseasonal rain was pretty common. In 2010 more than half a year’s worth fell in December.

It’s always interesting looking at accumulated rain each year.

I picked up the BOM average figures for our area from the website and I also calculated the actual 10-year average from our own figures, which gives a figure of 1100mm for the year.

Unless some significant rain happens between now and the end of the year, we’re looking at our lowest rainfall in all the time we’ve lived here. 2019 is the yellow line at the bottom.

But it’s all okay. The Indian Ocean index will reverse, la Niña will arrive, the rain will fall, and we’ll complain about the wet.

I’ll finish with the iconic poem by John O’Brien, SAID HANRAHAN, first published in 1919.

SAID HANRAHAN

“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
In accents most forlorn,
Outside the church, ere Mass began,
One frosty Sunday morn.

The congregation stood about,
Coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock, and crops, and drought,
As it had done for years.

“It’s lookin’ crook,” said Daniel Croke;
“Bedad, it’s cruke, me lad,
For never since the banks went broke
Has seasons been so bad.”

“It’s dry, all right,” said young O’Neil,
With which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel
And chewed a piece of bark.

And so around the chorus ran
“It’s keepin’ dry, no doubt.”
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.

“The crops are done; ye’ll have your work
To save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-o’-Bourke
They’re singin’ out for rain.

“They’re singin’ out for rain,” he said,
“And all the tanks are dry.”
The congregation scratched its head,
And gazed around the sky.

“There won’t be grass, in any case,
Enough to feed an ass;
There’s not a blade on Casey’s place
As I came down to Mass.”

“If rain don’t come this month,” said Dan,
And cleared his throat to speak–
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“If rain don’t come this week.”

A heavy silence seemed to steal
On all at this remark;
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed a piece of bark.

“We want a inch of rain, we do,”
O’Neil observed at last;
But Croke “maintained” we wanted two
To put the danger past.

“If we don’t get three inches, man,
Or four to break this drought,
We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.”

In God’s good time down came the rain;
And all the afternoon
On iron roof and window-pane
It drummed a homely tune.

And through the night it pattered still,
And lightsome, gladsome elves
On dripping spout and window-sill
Kept talking to themselves.

It pelted, pelted all day long,
A-singing at its work,
Till every heart took up the song
Way out to Back-o’Bourke.

And every creek a banker ran,
And dams filled overtop;
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“If this rain doesn’t stop.”

And stop it did, in God’s good time;
And spring came in to fold
A mantle o’er the hills sublime
Of green and pink and gold.

And days went by on dancing feet,
With harvest-hopes immense,
And laughing eyes beheld the wheat
Nid-nodding o’er the fence.

And, oh, the smiles on every face,
As happy lad and lass
Through grass knee-deep on Casey’s place
Went riding down to Mass.

While round the church in clothes genteel
Discoursed the men of mark,
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed his piece of bark.

“There’ll be bush-fires for sure, me man,
There will, without a doubt;
We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan,
“Before the year is out.”

 

I mean no disrespect to the farmers doing it tough out there in a seemingly never-ending drought. I’m just making the point that it isn’t new.

 

Spring has sprung

Our side garden while the grass is still green

For those of us in the southern hemisphere, spring is either around the corner or happening now. It’s not a huge event for us. The only deciduous trees we have are frangipanis and yes, the leaf buds at the ends of the branches are starting to swell. The very coldest (for us) winter nights are behind us now and the days are warm, in the mid-twenties, and dry. Soon enough the temperatures will rise and with them, the humidity. If we’re very lucky, we might even have a wet season this year but so far, the prospects are not good. We can already see the grass drying out.

It’s that oscillation between the oceans. The west coast is getting some of the rain it missed out on in the last few years and over here on the east coast many areas are enduring another year of drought. Last year the rain expected in the wet season, between December and March, didn’t happen here. The only cyclones were right up north and thankfully not very strong, although one huge rain depression sat over Townsville causing devastation on drought-ravaged pastoral properties. I think the graziers up there are still cleaning up. But at least the rain topped up the dams, the inland rivers, and the ground water.

Lorikeets love callistemon flowers

Here in Hervey Bay the callistemons are starting to flower, much to the delight of the lorikeets and other honey eaters. The mango trees are setting fruit and we have our fingers crossed that this year the rain will come and we’ll actually get more survivors than last year’s two. That’s right; two mangoes from two large trees. Our lime tree is bearing well and we’ve frozen quite a lot of juice in ice cube trays.  They’re lovely to add to water on a hot and humid day.

One tree has brand new tiny mangoes

The other tree is still in the flower stage

This year also we’ll keep an eye on those bunches of ripening bananas. We were warned that if we didn’t collect them when they were just ripe the birds would help us. We were a day late and didn’t salvage any. But the lorikeets, miner birds, and blue-faced honey eaters (also called ‘banana birds’) enjoyed a feast.

Hopefully we’ll get to share this with the birds

Limes

Salad greens and herbs, with three tomato plants down the end. We’ve also planted seeds for snow peas and green beans

We’ve been busy in the garden planting herbs and salad greens. Come summer the plants will bolt but in the meantime, rocket (arugula) and lettuce will be welcome. So will the tomatoes. We’ve planted a large variety, a roma tomato, and a cherry tomato. They’ll go well with basil, coriander, and parsley. It’ll be lovely as long as we can keep the insects at bay, especially fruit fly.

I’ve also planted some ornamental flower seeds to fill in some corners. Who knew petunia seeds were so small? They’re the only ones that haven’t made a showing so far. But there’s time.

(L-R) allysum, cosmos, marigolds, petunias

The main thing we need is rain. If you’d care to help us by sending up prayers, magical spells, or incantations, or maybe suitable ritual sacrifices if that’s part of your belief system, we would be very grateful.

The rain has (finally) come

I’m delighted to be able to report that we have been rained upon – nice, gentle, soaking rain which can continue on for longer if it wants. Encouraged by the 30mm or so we’d had before, I planted a cutting that I’d had under shelter, developing roots. The plant had a good root ball – but the ground where I planted it was only damp for about 3mm. The water had simply run off. I was surprised but that’s what you get after a prolonged dry period. I’m hopeful this time will be better.

All the plants in all the gardens in town have heaved a huge sigh of relief and started to develop new growth. This was, of course, particularly true of the weeds, which always take advantage of any opportunity. The big task now is to keep the weeds under control and give the grass a chance. The callistemons (see above) are flush with new growth and even flowers, which have pleased the resident honey eaters. The one at the top is an Australian noisy miner feasting on a flower. That’s great to see.

The weather has had other consequences. Pete and I, like quite a few other people in town, have contracted a kind of fluey virus that makes us lethargic, hot and sweaty, and achy. The doctor has assured us we’ll get the runny nose and coughs in due course. Something to look forward to.

I’ve been amusing myself by re-reading Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books. In the first one, Wee Free Men, Tiffany is nine years old. It won an award for children’s books and I suppose an older child could read it. But I was nine about… let’s see… sixty years ago and I’ve enjoyed the book several times already. Like all Terry’s stories, it’s a mix of hilarity, mythology, and life lessons. Oh, and it breaks that Rule of Writing that states you should use dialect sparingly in novels, just enough to get the flavour. The Wee Free Men are Feegles, fairy folk six inches tall who could easily be mistaken for Scots, right down to the kilts, the swords, and the wode. They speak in broad Scottish accents. All the time. Here’s a wee example. “Rob Anybody looked offended.  ‘We ne’er get lost!’ he said.  ‘We always ken where we are!  It’s just sometimes mebbe we aren’t sure where everything else is, but it’s no’ our fault if everything else gets lost! The Nac Mac Feegle are never lost!’ ”

If you’re bored with Brexit or Orange Don, have a look. Wee Free Men.

Apart from that, I’ve had some fun creating posters for my books in Photoshop. Here are a few examples.

To find out more about the books just click on the picture.

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.

 

 

A typical Australian summer

Sun, surf, and sand, yeah? Barbies at the beach, or next to the backyard swimming pool. That’s the ideal. But it’s Fake News, folks.

In the real world, record-breaking rain (really record breaking, not that pretend stuff) has drenched Far North Queenslan. The drought has ended but now cattle are dying in their thousands because of the floods, which are visible from space. And that’s without taking into the thousands upon thousands of native animals and domestic pets affected by the water. The only critters not complaining are the crocs. They say ‘if it’s flooded, forget it’ – flood water up there contains anything from nasty bacteria to a four-meter salty (salt water crocodile), maybe a few snakes and spiders, and of course, good old blind mullets (sewage).

The rain has finally stopped. Townsville, which seldom gets good rain, is sodden. But its community spirit is fantastic and they have the good fortune to be home to Australia’s third battalion, so there are plenty of willing helpers with heavy duty equipment.

Townsville flood photos: the aftermath of North Queensland’s weather event

Meanwhile, much of the green and fertile island of Tasmania has been on fire for weeks. Welcome rain has fallen to help the exhausted fire fighters. But just because the fires are out, that’s not the end of it.

Rains bring relief to bushfire-weary Tasmanian towns and fire crews

Somwhere in the middle Sydney’s western suburbs were lashed by a severe storm just a day or two ago. Roofs were ripped off, trees felled, power lines destroyed. And, of course, flash flooding.

Sydney lashed by severe thunderstorms, power outages, flooding

And what’s happening back home, here in Hervey Bay?

That brown stuff is grass and dirt

Summer is our wet season. We don’t get the tropical monsoon but we can get very heavy rain in December, January and February. We recorded 78.5mm in December, about half our ten-year average. The highest we’ve had in December was 593.5 (not far off 24″). In January, where we’d normally get 100-200mm, we recorded precisely 1mm. In February we’ve been watching the radar maps, hoping that massive low over Townsville would drift further south but it never happened. Little groups of clouds like a loose mob of sheep have drifted up from the South East, bringing bits of moisture to coastal towns. So far, we’ve had 21mm, which is little more than a tease.

Little groups of clouds

We’re struggling to keep the larger plants alive, even the drought-tolerant species like acalypha. The grass is only green in the rare places which benefit from run-off where we’ve watered an adjacent bit of garden.

Needless to say, the birds here are doing it tough. As I mentioned last week, we have fifity and more lorikeets, along with miner birds and blue-faced honey eaters, turning up for breakfast and dinner juice. Magpies, magpie larks, and butcher birds enjoy bacon rind. Just about everybody likes a bit of bread.

Us? Well, we’re just hoping for rain.

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.

The rains have arrived

Mangoes everywhere. That’s a small part of one tree

This one wasn’t too bad – sound and fury and 15mm of rain

The drought in Queensland appears to have broken – in our part of the world, anyway. A series of storms have swept in from inland Australia, the warm air mingling with a blast of cooler air coming up from the South, a perfect combination for storms. We were lucky. There was lots of thunder and lightning but no gale force winds, no hail, and no torrential rain.

Which brings me to another observation: Our two fairly large mango trees are covered in fruit, despite near drought conditions all through Winter and into Spring. You know what? I think trees are smarter than us when it comes to weather. The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting a dry Summer (because of El Nino). I reckon the mango trees are predicting good summer rains.

We shall see.

On the photography front, one of the big hassles of being a photographer on holiday is having to cart around lenses and the like. I did it for a few years, but changing lenses is cumbersome and frankly rarely happened. As I get older, I’m finding it harder and harder to cart around tripods, heavy lenses and so on. That’s okay for younger, fitter wildlife photographer types but I’ve slowed down of late. I don’t even get down to the beach much.

So… I’ve rationalized the camera situation and down-sized a bit.

I still have a Canon 70D and two smaller, lighter lenses – but I’ve sold a few items and bought a Nikon (shock-horror) Coolpix P1000. The camera is in the ‘compact’ range but it’s actually a hefty piece of kit rivalling the weight of a Canon 5D. Its claim to fame is an incredible zoom lens which will cover 24-3000mm. No, that’s not a typo. Three thousand. It means I can take the device on holidays and be able to take a landscape, then zoom in on a bird. Perfect for my needs. No, it’s not a ‘professional’ level lens and it has some short comings, but it’ll do for a hack like me.

I’ve started playing around, I have a lot to learn, but here are a few photos.

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.