Acknowledgements: Australian Weather News gratefully acknowledges the Bureau of Meteorology as the collector and main source of meteorological data in Australia, along with the thousands of observers who record the weather and rainfall daily. I also thank Don White, Michael Bath, Jimmy Deguara, Jacob Aufdemkampe , and Michael Thompson who routinely provide me with much appreciated information. Thanks also this month to Lindsay Smail and Peter Wagg for their contributions.
Thunderstorms and heavy showers again gave some solid rainfall totals to the southeast coast and Darling Downs of Queensland, and the Northern Tablelands and Coast of NSW today. However, falls were not as widespread or substantial as yesterday. Overnight, Gayndah reported 30mm from rain and storms between 9PM and 3AM, whilst Gold Coast Airport recorded 57mm in the two hours to 6AM, with 18.0mm of that falling in the 10 minutes to 4.59AM. Bundaberg (Qld) received 48mm in two hours between midday and 2PM, Canungra behind the Gold Coast recorded 32mm between 9AM and 3PM, and Applethorpe on the Darling Downs near the border received 21mm between noon and 3PM. South of the border, Glen Innes PO recorded 22mm, Grafton 20mm and Dorrigo 18mm between 9AM and 3PM, and Casino 22mm between 3PM and 6PM
Tropical Cyclone Les continued to move slowly WSW down the Western Australian coast today bringing gales torrential rain to the western Kimberley. Kuri Bay, about 200km NNE of Derby reported 320mm in the 24 hours to 9AM. Cygnet Bay, about 100km NNW of Derby reported 137mm, of which 75 fell between midnight and 6AM with wind gusts to 65 knots.
Tropical Cyclone Les, with a central pressure of only 996hPa, wandered slowly across the north Kimberley region of WA today, giving heavy rain and strong winds mainly to coastal parts. Kalumburu reported the top rain in the 24 hours to 9AM of 122mm, while Theda recorded 90mm. Kuri Bay reported 52 to 9AM and a further 39 to 3PM. Troughton Island off the Kimberley north coast reported gales for much of the day with sustained speeds of 35 to 40 knots and a top gust of 50 knots about 1.15PM. Strong winds occurred west of the system to the Pilbara coast.
The monsoon trough lies from TC Tiffany in the west, across the Kimberley and Cape York Peninsula to ex-TC Katrina near Willis Island. Tiffany is also relatively weak with a central pressure of around 994hPa. It was located around 700km NW of Northwest Cape, WA, and was moving slowly west. Ex TC Katrina, which has been a worry to north Queenslanders all month, is still a weak circulation with good depth through the atmosphere.
An active cold front swept through Tasmania during the morning bringing some particularly strong winds to the high country. The automatic weather station atop Mount Wellington, behind Hobart, recorded a top gust of 70 knots at 6AM, with sustained speeds to 49 knots between 5 and 6AM. Mount Read behind Zeehan recorded a gust of 48 knots at 1AM.
An unstable airmass east of a trough lying through central Queensland produced some heavy short-duration falls during the day. During the early morning, Yeppoon recorded 6.2mm in 4 minutes to 3.34AM, and 10.4mm in the 10 minutes to that time. Biloela recorded 68mm in a storm between 9PM last night and 3AM this morning, Gladstone had 33mm between midnight and 3AM, Warwick had 30mm in the 3 hours to 6AM and Toowoomba in Qld and Yamba on the NSW north coast both reported 25mm in the 3 hours to 9AM. During the afternoon, Nambour recorded 31mm in 3 hours to 3PM, and Gold Coast Seaway received 11.4mm in 10 minutes to 6.02PM.
A fire in the Torndiffup National Park south of Albany burnt through more than 500ha before being brought under control this morning. The fire is believed to have been deliberately lit late on Tuesday night.
Moist, unstable air feeding down the eastern side of a trough through central Queensland yesterday afternoon and evening was enhanced by an upper system to give moderate to heavy rain across parts of SE Qld. Farmers in the drought-affected Wide Bay/Burnett region benefited most, with general falls of 70 to 90mm recorded around Gympie and Maryborough, and some reported falls as high as 200mm. The highest reports from Bureau stations to 9AM this morning were 153mm at Miva, 150 at Toolara and 111 at Sunnybank
In Tasmania, dry areas in the northeast and central north received useful follow-up rains, with Ross in the northern Midlands receiving 26mm in the 24 hours to 9AM, whilst in the NE, Scottsdale recorded 31mm, Swan Island 43 and Swansea and St Helens 25.
A large fire continues to burn in wilderness south of the Pieman River on Tasmania's west coast. Eight crews are fighting the fire which has burnt through 3,000 hectares of forest and buttongrass country. A second fire north of the Pieman is being fought with a water-bombing helicopter.
Meanwhile, a fire which started about 5PM this afternoon on the eastern side of the Monaro Highway south of Canberra burnt through 100ha of forest and threatened rural properties and the Fernleigh Park subdivision south of Queanbeyan. Twenty-two fire units from the ACT, 20 from NSW, and a water-bombing helicopter were used to bring the fire under control mid-evening. A second fire on the Old Cooma Road burnt through 10ha.
Ex Tropical Cyclone Les is continuing to cause wild weather in the Territory's northwest. Late today, it was located just north of Port Keats, moving slowly WNW into the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf. It continues to produce heavy rain and widespread flooding in the western Top End, and is being watched for possible redevelopment as it moves out over water. Heavy falls in the 24 hours to 9AM included 242mm at Batchelor and 182mm at Adelaide River. TC Tiffany was downgraded during the morning but is still a category 3 cyclone with top wind gusts of around 220km/h near the centre. It was heading out to sea NW of Karratha late this morning.
What has been described as the worst flooding on record occurred in and around Katherine, NT, from 26 to 29 Jan, and downstream along the Daly River into the middle of February. Torrential rain from the remains of TC Les fell in the headwaters of the Katherine, Roper, Adelaide, Mary, Wildman and South Alligator Rivers as the system moved slowly west.
Falls in the catchments were of the order of 300 to 400mm as the rain depression passed. In the 48 hours to 9AM on the 27th, Eva Valley (about 50km north of Katherine) recorded 431mm, Upper Fergusson (70km ENE of Katherine) recorded 395mm and Tindal (15km SE of Katherine) recorded 386mm. In Katherine at the airport, 362mm fell in the 42 hours to 3AM this morning, with no 9AM report received on the morning of the 27th. The heaviest rain in Katherine, 202mm, fell during the 12 hours to 9am on the 26th, giving a 24 hour total of 220.8mm, the heaviest daily report for January in 24 years of record at the Airport. Katherine's monthly total for January, 913.8mm, comprehensively surpassed the previous January record for any station in the Katherine town area -- 704.6mm at Katherine Council in 1904.
The greatest damage and dislocation occurred in Katherine, the Territory's third largest town, where the river peaked at 20.4 meters at 4.30PM on the 27th, 1.1m higher than the previous worst flood in 1957, and 4.4m above flood level. Between 2,000 and 3,000 of the town's 11,000 residents were estimated to have been evacuated to centres on higher ground as up to three-quarters of the town went under water, with hundreds of homes completely submerged. The main business district was flooded by 1 to 2 meters of water for most of the 27th and 28th, reaching to the ceilings of some businesses. Water at the post office was 3m deep. Waves to half a meter in the main street washed cars away, broke through shop windows, and floated goods out of flooded stores. A crocodile was even spotted by police as it cruised down Katherine Terrace on Wednesday evening. Power, phones, radio and TV were lost during the afternoon or evening of the 27th and gradually restored from mid-morning on the 28th.
A state of emergency was declared on Tuesday morning as police called for private boat owners to help emergency services and 200 defence personnel in rescue operations. Food airlifts using RAAF aircraft began on Wednesday morning, at the same time as there were reports of looting from shops and houses. Five cases of gastro-enteritis were reported late on Wednesday, as authorities issued guidance on preventing health problems.
In an area one to two hundred kilometers surrounding Katherine, heavy flooding cut most roads and caused damage and evacuations. The main north-south Stuart Highway was cut both north and south of Katherine on Monday, with one 20m section swept away 13km north of the town. The Victoria Highway to the west, Katherine Gorge Road to the east, and the Kakadu Highway at Mary River, about 100km north of Katherine, were also cut during the day. Kakadu National Park staff later stated that the flood levels reached at the bridges over the Mary and South Alligator Rivers and Jim Jim Creek were the highest known. The closures of the Stuart and Victoria Highways effectively isolated the Top End, including Darwin, halting the road trains that normally supply perishables and foodstuffs. Helicopters were used to check highways for stranded people, and to make food drops to them and isolated properties and settlements from the 28th.
As floodwaters spread downstream from the area of heaviest rain around and to the north of Katherine, and as the rainband spread further west, a progressively larger area became affected. First to face evacuation were 58 people at Katherine Gorge, who were forced to move to higher ground on Monday night. During Tuesday, 350 people had to be moved to higher ground at the aboriginal community of Beswick, about 90km east of Katherine, as the Waterhouse River broke its banks. Late on Tuesday, 1400 people in Adelaide River township, about 170km NW of Katherine were threatened and some evacuated when the Adelaide River broke its banks and entered the main street. During Wednesday, evacuations were necessary at Mataranka and Elsey Station, around 100km SE of Katherine, as floodwaters entered the upper Roper River. Also on Wednesday, evacuations began in the Daly River settlement of 450 people, 200km downstream from Katherine, with a planeload of people airlifted to Darwin. Highway closures due to flooding had also spread, with the Stuart cut at many places from north of Batchelor (70km from Darwin) to south of Katherine, and the Arnhem Highway was cut at Wildman River. On Thursday, Beswick was without power and drinking water, and the community was evacuated to Barunga, 25km west.
Floodwaters in Katherine had receded sufficiently by the 30th for major clean-up work to commence. Water in Katherine stayed above the 1957 flood level for 53 hours. Downstream at Daly River settlement, the river peaked at 16.5m on 3 Feb, 1.6m above the 1974 flood level, and remained near peak level until 6 Feb with clean-up work not able to be started until mid February. Three people died in the floods, and the total damage bill was estimated soon after the flood to run into tens of millions of dollars in damage to buildings, infrastructure and personal belongings. About 50 fruit and vegetable-growing farms around Katherine, and mango, grain and cattle fattening farms along the Daly River reported damage and stocklosses.
As the rain-bearing depression that is now the former TC Les heads across the north of NT towards the Kimberley district of WA, TC Tiffany continues to move WSW, parallel to the coast and about 200km out to sea. During the afternoon, it was reported to be a category 4 cyclone, about 200km N of Karratha, moving WSW at 13km/h with a central pressure of about 940hPa. Tiffany is a particularly tight system, with the radius of gales only out to 100 to 130km. Mean windspeed along the coast have been around 60km/h, though North Rankin oil platform, NNW of Karratha, reported sustained winds to 84km/h today.
Good rains of 25 to over 100mm fell in Tasmania's parched northeast overnight, whilst Flinders Island had its heaviest January daily rainfall on record. 110.0mm was recorded in the 24 hours to 9 this morning at Memana on the Island's east coast, breaking the previous January record of 35mm, set in 1996. 107.0mm fell at the Airport on the west coast, despatching the previous January record of 52.2mm in 1992. Falls elsewhere on the Island were consistently heavy, with the main town, Whitemark, recording 102.6mm at the post office, and Lady Barron on the south coast reporting 96.0mm. The period of record at Memana is 35 years and at the Airport 54 years, but at Deal Island, 60km NW of Flinders Island, 74.0mm was recorded, breaking a January record of 29.6mm set in 1996 in 127 years of rainfall records!
The rain, accompanied by gale force winds in the northeast of the state, was caused by an intense low pressure system near Flinders Island. The Automatic Weather Station at Eddystone Point, Tasmania's northeastern tip, reported sustained winds of 40 to 50 knots until mid-afternoon, with a 10-minute average of 51kts reported at 9AM. Good rain on the Tasmanian "mainland" was restricted to the east coastal fringe corner, with Bicheno reporting 72mm and Swansea 29.
The rains are useful, but a severe drought still grips much of Tasmania. Between 1 Dec 1997 and 24 Jan 1998, Hobart has received 20mm compared to an average for the period of 92mm, Launceston 21 (average 77) and Burnie 37 (average 100). There are water restrictions on over 20 streams, mosty in the north, and total bans on lifting water from some rivers.
A most uncomfortably hot and humid night in Brisbane saw the mercury fall only as far as 26.1C at Brisbane Airport this morning. This is the hottest night in 49 years of record at the Airport, where the previous record was 25.9, set in 1983 and equalled in 1987. Humidity remained between 80 and 90% for most of the night, whilst today's temperatures in the Brisbane/Ipswich area rose to 37 to 39C.
Category 2 Tropical Cyclone Les, with estimated winds near the centre gusting to 140 km/h, passed across Groote Eylandt, and crossed the southwestern corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria today before heading into the Territory's Top End. Only light damage was caused on the island, where the main town Alyangula received 147.8mm of rain in the 24 hours to 9AM. By mid afternoon, the cyclone was near Ngukurr, about 70km inland from the Roper River mouth. Torrential rain began falling late in the evening in the area to the west of here, including the headwaters of the Katherine River.
An active low pressure trough with an embedded low passed across southern NSW during the night and morning, bringing heavy rain to coastal and mountain locations from Melbourne to the NSW Central Coast. Melbourne was worst affected, with intense thunderstorms bringing 28mm in the city between midnight and 6AM, and 87mm at Flemington for the 24 hours to 9AM. Roads, houses and carparks were flooded in northwestern suburbs. At Mooroolbark, in Melbourne's east, a man was killed and four others injured when a carport on which they were working collapsed in gusty winds. The storms caused blackouts, flash flooding and some roof collapsed due to built-up water. Roads in northern and western suburbs were still blocked by floodwaters at mid-morning.
Elsewhere in the state, lightning from the storms caused spot fires, the worst near Ruffy in central Victoria. Heavy rain continued through the day in East Gippsland, with embedded thunderstorms enhancing the falls. Wilson's Promintory recorded 73mm for the 24 hours to 9AM, nor far short of its record January one-day fall of 80mm in 123 years of record. The Prom went on to record a further 50mm in the 12 hours to 9PM. Further south, the Bass Strait islands were experiencing exceptionally heavy rain for them -- Deal Island reported 88mm for the 24 hours to 3PM, while Flinders Island Airport recorded 58mm in the 6 hours to 9PM, of which 19.6mm fell in 27 minutes to 5.15PM.
In southeastern NSW, rain fell through much of the day as the trough and low moved through. Green Cape, in the far southeast corner of NSW and in the track of the low, reported 61mm in the 6 hours to 4AM, then after a break in the rain through the day, a downpour of 24mm between 4 and 5PM. To the WNW, Cooma Airport reported 49mm between 9PM Saturday and 3AM today. Sydney, the Hunter and the Central Coast received heavy falls, too, with Narara, near Gosford, reporting 106mm in the 24 hours to 3PM, Clarence Town in the Hunter 108mm in the 2 days to 9AM Monday, and Sydney suburban falls in the range 35 to 65mm for the event.
Several rainfall totals for the 6 weeks ended today give some idea of the levels of saturation being experienced in parts of tropical Australia. Katherine has recorded 846mm, 572mm above normal for the same period, whilst Darwin Airport has had 907mm, up 420mm on normal. In Queensland's north, Cooktown's 943mm for the six weeks was 538mm above normal, and Townsville's 754 exceeded the average by 479mm.
In the far northwest of Peru, where precipitation is normally near zero much of the year, and the annual average rainfall is about 25mm, Piura has recorded 581mm in the past 6 weeks. Between 16 December and today, Piura has reported 12 separate days with at least half their normal annual rainfall. Nearby Talara received 112mm on 13 January, over 5 times their annual normal. The region has received totals of from 280 to 730mm since 1 December, compared to annual normals of 20 to 60mm. The rain has been generated from abnormally warm waters off the Peruvian coast which form part of the El Nino event.
A low in the central Gulf of Carpentaria, Qld, deepened to cyclone status late this morning and has been named "Les". By early afternoon, Centre Island in the southwest of the Gulf was reporting heavy rain squalls -- 10.8mm in 10 minutes with gusts to 55 knots at 3PM. By evening, the Cyclone had become a category 2 and was heading west.
A trough of low pressure moving east over NSW during the afternoon produced thunderstorms with damaging wind gusts and torrential rain. Houses were damaged and roofs partly removed in Bungendore by a storm about 2PM. In nearby Braidwood, the automatic weather station recorded 12.0mm of rain in the 10 minutes to 2.03PM, and persistent wind gusts to 50 knots between 2.03 and 2.16PM. In Young, wind gusts to 41 knots brought down trees, crushing a car, whilst in Crookwell a woolshed roof was blown off. Gusts were measured to 46 knots at Forbes at 12 noon and 38 knots at Goulburn at 2PM. In Sydney, heavy rain fell with the storms, Observatory Hill receiving 40mm, Penrith 41 and Horsely Park 35. Electrical activity with the storms caused a chain reaction when automatic house fire alarms set off by lightning caused the emergency services central computer in Sydney to overload and crash repeatedly, hampering State Emergency Services activities. The storm also damaged the NRMA road service's phone system, increasing the delays in answering motorists' calls for help.
At Gembrook, in the Dandenongs east of Melbourne, a severe hailstorm struck at 11.30PM. Brian Wheldon reports that 27mm of rain and hail fell in 18 minutes. The hail was 15 to 22mm across and of irregular shape, like crushed ice. He says "The amazing thing was there was no wind until the rain and hail stopped. Our trees are peppered with holes through their leaves."
Continuing dry conditions have caused water restrictions to be placed on further rivers in northwestern Tasmania. Three small rivers in the Devonport area have been closed for water use for the first time. There are also restrictions on the Don River and tributaries, and also on Wilsons and Sedgy Creeks near Smithton on the northwest coast. King Island, in western Bass Strait, has also had water restrictions invoked recently to protect the water supply of Currie, the island's principal town.
Seven major fires were burning across the Esperance and Goldfields regions of WA today. One, near Port Malcolm, 200km east of Esperance, has burnt out 18,000ha and closed the popular fishing locations in the area. There are two large fires burning on the Nullarbor plains, about 100km east of Norseman, another two near Salmon Gums north of Esperance, one in the Boorabbin National Park east of Southern Cross, and one in Cave Hill Nature Reserve, south of Coolgardie. Many of the fires have been burning since the weekend.
Farmers in the Gascoyne and Murchison regions of Western Australia's north report that the long spell of 40 degree plus days has been taking its toll on the wildlife. Temperatures inland have exceeded 45 degrees through much of late December and January. The ABC Country Hour reported that locals were describing the hot spell as one of the worst in memory, with stock losing condition and even kangaroos and birds apparently dying from the high temperatures. A Gascoyne landholder, Tim Darcy, said birds were dying and dropping into water tanks. "I think everybody is running around with their tanks and putting floating logs in, and that sort of thing, to sort of help the birds out," he said. "But a lot of them are just dying from sheer heat. They are dropping out of the trees. I mean, around our homestead, we quite often find birds on the ground next morning after a really hot day."
A fire which began in Goobang National Park in the Harvey Ranges east of Parkes on Monday burnt through 3,000 ha of the park before escaping to burn out 1,500 ha of farmland, destroying pastures and fencing.
Violent storms brought hail, gales and heavy rain to Sydney, the Illawarra, Hunter and Central West during the afternoon and evening. During the late afternoon, storms moved through the Central West, giving hail of 20 cent size to Bathurst, and strong winds and heavy rain to Cowra and Mudgee.
In Sydney, widespread storms struck in the early evening, with Energy Australia recording 2000 lightning strikes in the greater Sydney region between 5.30 and 8PM. Ten thousand homes were blacked out for half an hour in the southern suburbs of Revesby and Blakehurst. In the city, three floors of Grace Brothers store were flooded about 7PM. Rain was heaviest in the city's west, with Bankstown Airport recording 41mm and Castle Hill 35mm in the storm. Roads were flooded in Homebush and Guildford, as was a liquor distribution warehouse at Villawood. Power lines came down on a car at Pendle Hill about 6.45PM, and properties were damaged in Sydney's southwest by falling trees.
In the Hunter Valley, 30,000 properties were blacked out in Maitland, Cessnock and Kurri Kurri and six homes lost their roofs in Singleton. Singleton received 40mm and Jerrys Plains 51mm in the storm. Strong winds and hail were also reported in the Illawarra.
While NSW generally sweltered today, the heat was particularly great in Sydney's western suburbs. Prospect Dam registered a maximum temperature of 43C, 15 above average. Other readings, mostly around 14 above average, were 44.7 at Oakhurst, 43.2 at Horsley Park and Camden, 42.6 at Badgery's Creek, 42.4 at Penrith, 42.2 at Liverpool, 42.1 at Parramatta North and 41.5 at Bankstown.
A band of thunderstorms moved across the area around 4PM. Michael Bath reports: "At Penrith (near Panthers) about 40 - 50mm fell in a storm with 20-30 knot S winds from 3.45 - 4.30PM. 40 knot gusts were experienced prior to the onset of rain. Some further heavy falls occurred at Minchinbury around 6.30PM from a separate storm cell. Light rain and lightning continued in the metro area until about 9pm." Glenmore Park reported 46mm from the storm, but Propect Dam had only 14.8mm.
Bushfires continue around Hobart
See story for Saturday 17 January.
Total fire bans were in force today for all of Victoria and Tasmania, and 11 of the 15 fire districts in SA. In Tasmania, 5 houses were lost and hundreds threatened near the southern Hobart suburbs of Kingston and Taroona. 3000 hectares of forest land and 200ha of farming country were burnt out. The Chief Fire Officer believed that many more homes would have been lost had people not stayed with the houses and taken steps to protect them. Strong winds gusting to 50 knots accompanied temperatures around 28 to 30 degrees during the evening, causing spot fires to spread. The bushfires continued into Sunday and were the worst since 1967. The fire that threatened Kingston is believed to have been started by a duck flying into a high tension powerline. Hobart's Temperature today reached 39.4 at 4.45 pm. This is Hobart's hottest temperature since 3 Jan 1991 when it reached 39.6. Three centres reached 38 by 3PM: Grove, Melton Mowbray and Bushy Park.
Things were hot on Victoria's west coast, too, with Portland recording a top of 40 degrees, nearly 19 above average. The city of Geelong sweltered with a top temperature at the airport (about 10km south of the city) of 42, whilst the city itself recorded its maximum of 40.3 at 5.15PM. In the city, the temperature stood above 39 degrees continuously from 2.30PM to 6.45PM. Inland, the mercury reached 45C at Ouyen and 44 at Mildura, Walpeup and Horsham. Over the border in SA, top temperatures were 46C at Marla, Oodnadatta, Marree and Renmark. Some Adelaide suburbs reported top temperatures of 42C, whilst Mt Gambier's top of 41.1 was 16 above normal.
In Victoria, a fire which began in a pine plantation in Frankston North, southeast of Melbourne, burnt out 75 hectares of grassland. There was another grass fire at Scoresby, also southeast of Melbourne, whilst hot spots from the Alpine National Park fire in Gippsland flared up overnight but were controlled by the afternoon.
Willis Island, which lies about 500km ENE of Cairns, received a record 295mm of rain in the 24 hours to 9AM this morning. The previous heaviest 24 hour fall in a January was 243.8mm, and the figure was not far short of Willis Island's all time record of 329.2mm. The island has hosted a meteorological station since 1921. For good measure, the island recorded a further 132mm during the 24 hours to Sunday the 18th.
Friday 16 January 1998
Tropical Cyclone Katrina gradually turned to a southward movement today and lost a little of its intensity, with sustained winds near the centre of 85 knots with gusts to 105 knots. At 6PM EST, Katrina's central pressure had risen from 940hPa earlier in the day to 950hPa.
A strong cold front pushed through Western Australia today, dropping temperatures substantially for the first time in over a week. Maximum temperatures in the south and central west and the Great Southern were 6 to 9 degrees below average, whilst ahead of the front in eastern WA and western SA, they were up to 13 degrees above average. Manjimup, southeast of Perth, recorded a top temperature of 19C, whilst Eyre, on the coast in the southeast of the state, reported 48C and Ceduna, on the central western SA coast reported 40C.
Recent local heavy thunderstorm rains seem to have produced additional runoff into the Paroo River in far southwest Queensland to bring the level at Eulo to major flood level. The river at Eulo was 4.15m this morning, close to its peak, having peaked at Hungerford on Thursday night at 1.83m. On the Bulloo, conditions are unchanged, with minor to moderate flooding continuing between Autumnvale and Thargomindah.
Twenty-five residents of Paluma, a small town about 60km WNW of Townsville were evacuated today. Road links into the town, high on the coastal escarpment, were washed out in last weekend's rain, power is still off, and supplies were running low. A helicopter dropped food to those remaining. Paluma recorded 1360mm in the week ended 9AM yesterday, the highest total yet reported.
Meanwhile, reports of the extent of damage to agriculture in the area are starting to come in. The banana industry expects up to 15% loss of production due to trees coming down and pest infestations. The Queensland Canegrowers Organisation expects between 10 and 20% of the cane crop north of Townsville to be lost, accounting for some half a million tonnes worth tens of millions of dollars. . Paw paw growers expect some loss of production as a result of phytothera infestations brought about by the heavy and continuous rain, and waterlogging will affect pineapples, custard apples and other tropical fruit.
The rain has been good news for the pastoral industry, and growers south of Townsville that rely on Burdekin Falls Dam waters. Pastoralists say the northern Queensland country is getting into prime shape after an "old fashioned" wet, whilst irrigators that rely on the Burdekin are delighted that storage has risen from 69% capacity last week to 160% today. Given that the dam covers 22,500 hectares (22.5 square km), an increase of that size in one week is just one measure of the incredible rains experienced in the area in the past week.
Floodwaters from rain earlier in the month continue to move down the Bulloo and Paroo river systems in far southwest Qld. The Paroo is in moderate flood between Hungerford and Eulo, having peaked at 3.39m at Caiwarro last Tuesday morning. The Bulloo is in minor to moderate flood between Autumnvale and Thargomindah.
A mere dampening of the ground - 0.2mm - broke Perth's dry spell, which has lasted since 27 November last year. The suburbs fared better, with 6mm at Karnet, 3 at Bickley, and 1 each at Belmont and Gosnells. Away from the southwest, the state's heatwave continued with temperatures generally in the low to mid 40s in the south and the mid to high 40s in the north. Nyang Station in the Gascoyne topscored with 48, but coastal Learmonth on North West Cape registered 47.2, 10 above average. The west of South Australia is now into hot conditions as well, with daytime temperatures into the low to mid 40s. Whyalla's top of 42.1 yesterday was 13 up on normal.
Katrina, which was located 500km ENE of Cooktown at 6PM, slowed and intensified rapidly between about 6AM and noon, with central pressure dropping to 955hPa at noon, 945 at 6PM and 940 at midnight. The system was moving SW at only 8km/h at this time.
Storms forming along an active cold front produced violent winds, hail, and possibly a tornado or two in the country around Mildura around 8PM. From press reports, it appears there were three major thunderstorms. One hit the small towns of Dareton, Curlwaa and Merbien, about 10 to 20km WNW of Mildura, and lasted 20 minutes. It unroofed about 8 houses and felled trees and powerlines. A second storm ripped out large trees, and destroyed a camping family's car, trailer and camping gear in Hattah-Kulkine National Park, about 50km south of Mildura, while the family took to the river to escape the storm (!). A third storm hit Swan Hill and Lake Boga, 15km to its southeast, downing trees and powerlines, crushing one car under a tree, and causing flash flooding. Police say damage was limited, despite what they described as a storm of "frightening ferocity".
Earlier in the afternoon, strong winds, thunderstorms and some hail accompanied the cold front as it swept through southwestern Victoria. Wind gusts to 106km/h were reported from Longerenong, about 30km east of Stawell. Gusts of 87 km/h were reported from Airey's Inlet, and 80km/h at Melbourne Airport, Kilmore, Dunns Hill near Mount Dandenong, and Sheoaks, 20km northwest of Geelong. The Geelong suburb of Whittington had a 30 minute downpour of 46 mm, together with 5-cent sized hail. Trees and powerlines were brought down, and flash flooding cut roads in the area.
This morning saw some new January highest minimum temperatures set on Tasmania's north coast and central highlands. These included Launceston City with 20.3, 10 above average, Wynyard 19.1, Strathgordon 18.5, and Tarraleah 19. Erriba with 16.8 and Launceston Airport on 19.8 equalled their previous January highest minimum temperatures. Even cold and breezy Maatsuyker Island, off the state's south coast, was 10 up on normal with 20.9. The true minimum at many stations was masked by the Australian Bureau practice of taking minimum temperatures for the 24 hours to 9AM. Thus, although Hobart had a warm night, with the temperature not dropping below a minimum of 23.5 at 11PM, the official record shows the minimum as 22, recorded when the minimum thermometer was reset at 9AM the previous day.
Abnormally high temperatures around coastal Victoria produced damaging fires to the north and west of Melbourne. A fire at Wandong, about 40km north of Melbourne, burnt through over 700ha of grassland and pine plantation, and threatened homes in Wandong and nearby farms and towns. 250 firefighters attended the blaze which was brought under control late evening. Earlier in the afternoon, a fire at Ceres, about 10km west of Geelong, destroyed one home and burnt out 200 ha of grassland.
Strong northwesterlies pushed inland heat to all parts of the Victorian coast. Normally cool Wilsons Promintory scored a top temperature of 33C, 13 above normal, whilst Lakes Entrance with 39C was 16 above and many coastal locations on the west coast had maxima in the mid thirties, 12 or so above average.
Recent hot humid days coupled with rain from storms is seriously affecting the Murray Valley table grape crop. The earliest varieties, Cardinal and Flame Seedless, have been almost wiped out, and other varieties are prone to damage by rain after the heat.
Cunnamulla, in southwestern Queensland, receives 44mm of rain in an average January. This morning at 9AM, there was 60.2mm in the gauge from rain in the previous 24 hours, and a further 10mm fell from 9AM to 3PM. Between then and 6PM, a further 67mm fell in a thunderstorm. Further overnight rain gave a 24 hour total on Thursday morning of 94.6mm, giving the town 155mm in 48 hours. Further north, Rocky Station, 70km ESE of Charleville, recorded 79.5 for the 24 hours to 9AM Wednesday. On Coopers Creek in far southwest Queensland, Durham Downs recorded 75mm and nearby Karmona 67.
Widespread storms again occurred during the day and evening across the two states giving a sprinkling of rainfall totals between 15 and 25mm. Storms again produced some heavy falls in the Adelaide and Mt Lofty region, Mallala on the Adelaide Plains receiving 56mm.
Fresh flooding occurred in Ingham where the Herbert River again rose late afternoon cutting the Bruce Highway. The town received 101mm between 9PM Monday and 9PM today, falling on completely saturated ground. Approximately 20,000 hectares of mostly young sugar cane has been seriously damaged by the flooding, though, overall, the benefits to agriculture and pastures in the area outweigh the disadvantages.
Heavy rain hampered relief work in Townsville today with a damage bill in excess of $40m expected, of which about $20m will go to repairing public utilities such as roads, beachfront walls and power supplies. Between 3000 and 5000 private claims on insurance were expected in the Ayr/Townsville/Ingham region. Townsville Airport old site recorded a further 92mm in the 24 hours to 9AM, bringing its weekend 48 hour total to 641mm.
A weak surface low was still evident just north of Townsville during the morning, and by mid morning the monsoonal trough had redeveloped. Periods of heavy rain moved in across the city from the sea for the rest of the day. The Airport recorded 17mm from 9AM to noon, 53mm from noon to 3PM, 38mm from 3PM to 6PM, 30mm from 6PM to 9PM, and 18mm from 9PM to midnight. Starting around this time, the surface monsoonal trough relocated well north to be near Cooktown by daybreak, with Townsville's remarkable rain event finishing about 2AM. 173mm was measured in the Townsville Airport old Met Office Site raingauge on Tuesday morning, giving a 72 hour total of 814mm. Rangeview Ranch, about 40km south of the city, recorded 895mm over the same period.
With many businesses closed due to weekend damage, the new bout of heavy rain caused a virtual complete shutdown of the city as workers battled renewed floodwaters to return home. Emergency workers had to abandon clean-up work for the rest of the day.
Widespread storms swept across SA during the early afternoon and Victoria during the late afternoon and evening giving scattered rainfalls of 20 to 30mm. Moorabbin Airport in Melbourne's southeastern suburbs, however, scored 91mm in a storm between 7 and 9PM, an unusually high storm total for Victoria. Earlier in the day, heavy storms in Adelaide and the Mt Lofties gave One Tree Hill 35mm in half an hour, Hamley Bridge (about 60km north of Adelaide) 48mm, and on the Eyre Peninsula Cleve received 51mm and Kimba 53. The storms caused some damage in Victoria, and lightning in the state started 40 forest fires, all of which were quickly contained.
Phenomenal rains cause severe flooding around Townsville 08 May 1998
Townsville Airport broke its record for 24 hour rainfall by a long margin this morning when 548.8mm was measured in the gauge at the old Met Office site at 9AM. This figure is nearly half the City's average annual rainfall of 1108.5mm, and breaks the previous 24 hour record of 366.5mm. Readings have been taken at the Airport since 1940. 437mm fell during the nine hours from 6PM on Saturday to 3AM Sunday. Other high 24 hour falls in the area were Major's Creek, Mingela with 512.0mm, Rangeview Ranch near Townsville 507.2mm, Yabulu Nickel Mine 450, Yabulu 340.8, Paluma 340.0mm, Mirambeen near Mingela 275.2, Paynes Lagoon Station near Mingela 273.0, Lassie Ck Station near Rollingstone 264.2, and Giru PO 255.6. Away from the coast, Charters Towers AP recorded 186.2, Kurrajong, near Charters Towers 185.0 and Sellheim 145.0
The 3-hourly rainfall totals at Townsville Airport during this remarkable weekend were:
|Midnight to 3AM
|Midnight to 3AM
|3AM to 6AM
|3AM to 6AM
|6AM to 9AM
|6AM to 9AM
|9AM to noon
|9AM to noon
|noon to 3PM
|noon to 3PM
|3PM to 6PM
|3PM to 6PM
|6PM to 9PM
|6PM to 9PM
|9PM to midnight
|9PM to midnight
The new day illuminated the worst devastation in the city since the 1971 cyclone damage. One resident awoke to find two cars and a yacht, none of them his, in his yard. Most roads in the city were untrafficable, all rail links damaged or under water, and the airport was closed to commercial traffic with part of the runway under water, and navigation aids out of order. The Bruce Highway was cut to the north and south of the city. Electricity was off in most of the area, water was cut in the northern suburbs, and sewage pumping stations were inoperable. The tailings dam at the Yabula nickel refinery north of Townsville overflowed, spilling pollutants into nearby rivers. One person was confirmed dead, having been washed off a road in a car. A 4 meter king tide during the morning slowed drainage of the floodwaters into the sea, while the resumption of (relatively) heavy rain in the early evening caused floodwaters in the CBD to rise briefly again. Further north, all roads into Ingham were closed.
The tropical low, former Tropical Cyclone Sid, maintained a central pressure of 998hPa until about mid-morning, then gradually weakened to about 1002hPa by the end of the day. Cradled in the monsoon trought which extended northeastwards to TC Katrina, it drifted slowly SSE down the coast at first to be just north of Townsville by late morning. The low then moved northwest late in the day, causing brief renewed rain in the Townsville area. A diminishing band of rain and gales therefore continued to affect the area from Ingham to the south of Townsville. To the distant south, beaches on Queensland's Sunshine and Gold Coasts were closed by 2.5m waves whipped up by the gales to the north and strong winds locally.
Heavy rain in the eastern tributaries of the Burdekin River west of Townsville produced major flooding in the Sellheim area, just east of Charters Towers. The river peaked at Sellheim at 20.5m at 7PM. The Towers managed 186mm for the 24 hours to 9AM, just braking its previous January one-day high of 184.4mm in a set of rainfall records dating back to 1882. It received another 48mm between 9AM and 3PM. By late in the day, water was 3.5m over the Burdekin Dam spillway, rising to nearly 5m on Tuesday. Reports from the river speak of logs being carried along in turbulent water at 30kkm/h. The flood at Sellheim is believed to be the second highest known. South of Townsville, falls of up to 180mm in the 24 hours to 9AM produced moderate to major flooding in the Haughton River and nearby streams. The Haughton at Giru peaked at 2.7m with major flooding during the afternoon.
Top temperatures above 40C were again reported from most inland WA centres today, the greatest departures from normal being in the southwestern quarter of the state. Carnarvon (43.3C), Mount Barker (39), Hyden (45) and Ongerup (41) were all 12 up on normal, whilst Esperance's 42C was 16 above average.
A combination of strong winds, instability and the uplift provided to onshore winds by North Queensland's coastal mountains caused torrential rain from Cardwell south to beyond Townsville today. and has given Townsville its wettest day on record. The remains of Tropical Cyclone Sid, which have been wandering around north Queensland and the Gulf of Carpentaria since late December, entered the Coral Sea near Cardwell early this morning, and in combination with a high pressure ridge along the central coast produced a band of gales which moved slowly south between Cardwell and Bowen with gusts up to 90km/h. Ingham received 295mm between 9PM last night and 9AM this morning, and falls for the 24 hours to 9AM included Mingela (Majors Creek) 512mm, Ingham 321, Happy Valley near Babinda 320, Gairloch 311, Paluma 307, Tully 284, Halifax 260 and Lucinda 244. Between 9AM and 3PM, heaviest falls were Dotswood 154mm, Nettlefield 123 and Charters Towers 55.
Rapid rises and major flooding occurred in the Herbert River, which flows to sea at Ingham, with peaks of 10.20m observed at Nash's Crossing at 5.45AM, 17.2m at Abergowrie Bridge at 3PM, 12.3m at Gairloch at 7PM and Halifax 5.37m around 10PM. Moderate to major flooding occurred further north in the lower Tully and Murray Rivers. The Bruce Highway was blocked by floodwaters at Euramo, south of Tully, where the Tully River peaked at 8.95m around 3PM, though earlier roadblocks caused by floods south of Cairns had cleared. During the day, the Bruce was also cut 10km north of Ingham, and the main railway between Townsville and Cairns was covered by floodwaters. Houses in low lying areas were evacuated in Tully, Cardwell and Ingham
During the day, the band of heaviest rain moved south to the Townsville area. Townsville reported relatively light rain during daylight, with only 43mm between 9AM and 6PM, but then the heavens opened, dumping 335mm (repeat 335) at the airport between 6PM and midnight causing severe local flash flooding and high flood levels in coastal streams in the area. 236mm of this fell in the 3 hours to 9PM.
By late evening, with the heaviest of the rain falling and gales continuing, most streets in the relatively flat city were awash, and littered with downed trees and power lines. Water coursed 3 meters deep through parts of the CBD, and hundreds of homes and businesses were inundated around the city, with about 200 people having to be evacuated. Five homes in the suburb of Black River were washed away when the river broke its banks, and 5 other homes in the city destroyed. A combination of fallen power lines and flooded substations cut power to 20,000 homes, and phones were also out in most of the city. A rockslide, estimated to be between 10,000 and 20,000 cubic meters, or about 4 to 8 times the size of the Thredbo landslip, destroyed 12 and damaged 6 units of a resort on Magnetic Island. Another landslip destroyed a home in west Townsville, whilst boulders loosened from Castle Hill rolled down into Stuart Street in the CBD. Some news items indicated a state of emergency had been declared during the evening, though, if so, it was "re-declared" the next day!
The 378mm recorded in the 15 hours to midnight exceeded Townsville's previous highest 24 hour rainfall total of 366.5mm, with 9 hours still to go! Mingela, 60km south of Townsville, recorded 154mm between 9AM and 3PM, 105mm of that falling between noon and 2PM. A further 129mm fell between 3PM and 9PM. Gale force winds have lashed the coast, with Alva Beach, Ayr, reporting sustained wind speeds of 34 to 37 knots during the afternoon, and Townsville Airport recording gusts to 42 knots around 3PM.
Meanwhile, significant rain has fallen in the Bulloo River catchment in southwest Queensland, with 56mm in the 2 days to 9AM this morning at South Comongin, south of Quilpie. The Bulloo is in moderate flood at Quilpie and rising.
WA's heatwave continued with many centres away from the coast reporting top temperatures in excess of 40C. Mandora in the north was 11 above average with 47C, and Hyden in the south was 10 up with 43C.
Phenomenal rain south of Cairns, Qld 7 May 1998
Ex-TC Sid continued as a prodigious rainmaker, bringing falls of up to three-quarters of a metre of rain in the 24 hours to 9 this morning to the south of Cairns. The raingauges sited at the top and bottom stations of Mt Bellenden Ker provided a magnificent demonstration of orographic rainfall, with the top station (altitude 1555m) recording a monumental 780mm, exactly twice the 390mm recorded at the bottom station (91m). Other mighty falls in the area included Happy Valley near Babinda 432mm, Deeral Post Office 422, Gordonvale PO 388, Meringa Sugar 375, Babinda PO 358.8 and Mount Sophia 347.0.
Downpour causes flash flooding in Broken Hill, NSW 14 Jan 1998
In what has been described as the worst downpour in 20 years, about 60mm of rain was dumped on the western NSW mining city of Broken Hill in 45 minutes this morning. 280 homes and businesses were flooded, some with over a meter of water, roads became raging torrents, and cars were swept away -- one containing a baby which was rescued by police. Some 50 houses and many of the Argenta Street shops in the CBD suffered extensive water damage.
The heavy fall was one of several generated in the humid air lying over NSW by unstable conditions associated with an upper trough and low over the west of the state. In the 24 hours to 9AM on the 10th, Broken Hill registered 74mm and Menindee to the ESE had 75mm. Further east, Forbes Airport received 31mm and many central locations reported falls of 15 to 20mm, mostly falling during the evening of the 9th. Based on Broken Hill's rainfall record, which extends back to 1899, the highest 45 minute fall that would normally be expected once in a century is about 47m, so even given the approximations of duration and amount of heavy rain, it still ranks as a remarkably rare event.
With the remains of Tropical Cyclone Sid still bringing copious rains around the Gulf of Carpentaria, some prodigious totals are being amassed. Inkerman station, about 170km north of Normanton has recorded 624mm in the first seven days of 1998, leading to widespread flooding of low lying river flats and deltas that surround the Gulf. Much of the coastal strip between Weipa and Normanton has recorded over 400mm during the week.
In a press release issued yesterday, the Bureau of Meteorology issued its annual mean temperature figure for the year 1997. Acting Director of Meteorology, Dr Doug Gauntlett, said that the average Australian temperature for 1997 was 22.0C, 0.19C above the 1961 to 1990 average (the international reference period for comparison).
"The 1997 value continued the pattern of above normal annual mean temperatures in recent years," he said. "However, 1997 was only Australia's 15th warmest year in the high-quality record from 1910 and well below the record of 0.69C above normal set in 1988. Overnight temperatures again contributed more to the warm annual average with the mean minimum temperature (15.47C) being 0.30C above average whilst the mean maximum temperature (28.53C) was only 0.08C above average."
In Great Britain, the Meteorological Office has issued a press release stating that 1997 was the third warmest in England since records began more than 300 years ago. Analysis showed that the mean Central England Temperature for 1997 was 10.57C. This is the temperature measured at four places - Malvern in Worcestershire, Rothamsted in Hertfordshire, Squires Gate, near Blackpool, and Ringway, near Manchester - and averaged over the whole year. It is the longest-running temperature record in the world, dating from 1659. Since then, the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research says, only two years have been hotter - 1990, with a mean of 10.63C and 1949 (10.62C).
Throughout the world 1997 is likely to be even more exceptional. The Met Office predicted at the end of November that it would be the hottest year on record, unless exceptional and widespread cold were experienced during December. Data has in fact shown continuing warmth, so that chances are that this record will be confirmed.
The fire in Victoria's Alpine National Park jumped control lines on a 3km front on its northeastern edge overnight, crossing the Moroka River near Mount Dawson. However, light rain through the day helped slow the spread of the fire, but at the same time thwarted attempts to accurately map the fire using infrared scanners in aircraft. Intensive water bombing continued during the day in an attempt to prevent spotfires spreading from the blaze.
Perth's top temperature of 42.6C today was its highest January maximum since 31 Jan 1991. Elsewhere around the city it was even hotter -- Gosnells in Perth's southeast recorded 44 degrees, making it the hottest spot in the nation, whilst Perth Airport, Kwinana and Fremantle East all recorded 43. The city has now been rainless for 41 days, the longest dry period for two years: in the summer of 1995/6 there were 68 consecutive rainless days.
An article in the latest issue of Australian Meteorological Magazine by Blair Trewin from Melbourne University's School of Earth Sciences casts doubt on the Australian record high temperature, generally attributed to Cloncurry. The record figure of 53.1C was set on 16 Jan 1889, but in a detailed examination of this and other maximum temperatures over 50C, Mr Trewin finds many temperatures recorded late last century are not comparable with later and current recording methods.
"The most plausible cause of the irregular observations appears to be a failure to adequately shelter the instruments from incoming solar radiation during the period of the year when the sun is south of overhead", he says. "If this was a widespread occurrence, it has potential implications for the accuracy of climatic records throughout the tropics prior to the introduction of the Stevenson screen."
Stevenson screens are white, louvred boxes to a standard design which have been used worldwide for most of this century to ensure that thermometers measure air temperature in a stardard way, free from direct sunlight or reflected radiation from nearby surfaces. It seems likely that the thermometer which recorded the Cloncurry "record" was mounted on a Glaisher stand, then commonly in use. This was simply a vertical board, shaded from above, which the observer had to rotate at different times of day and season to ensure the sun did not fall on the thermometers. Even if this was done conscientiously, radiant heat from nearby surfaces, such as the ground, could still produce temperatures higher than those that would be recorded in a Stevenson screen.
If the findings are true, then 7 of the 9 daily maximum temperatures of 50C or above ever recorded in Australia are in doubt. These include reports of 52.8C at Bourke, NSW, in Jan 1877, 50.8C at Mildura in Jan 1906, and 50.7C at Eucla, WA, in the same month. The two remaining reports which are comparable to today's standards are 50.7C at Oodnadatta, SA, on 2 Jan 1960 and 50.0C at Wilcannia, NSW, in January 1939.
The fire in Victoria's Alpine National Park broke through control lines on its northeastern edge late in the day, dashing hopes to contain the fire before expected worsening conditions late in the week. The fire is estimated to have burnt out about 35,000ha of bushland.
High temperatures returned to much of the western half of WA today, with Perth city reporting a top temperature of 41.5C today after a top of 38.4C yesterday. It was still 37.9C in Perth at 6PM. Elsewhere in the state, Eneabba PO topped the list with 43.6C, and Geraldton Airport, Morawa PO and Kwinana all reported top temperatures of 42C
Four river systems across the north of Tasmania have had irrigation restrictions or bans placed on them a month or two earlier than usual for Tasmania's dry season. The Meander, Liffey, Rubicon and South Esk river basins have become prematurely dry due to a severe rainfall deficiency that has developed since the beginning of Spring across the northeastern half of Tasmania. In the northeastern third of the state, rain for the three months to the end of December was in the lowest 10% of falls on record, except for the northeastern highlands. The most serious deficiencies are along the northeastern coastline and in the country north of Hobart. The water restrictions are expected to have most impact on the dairy and vegetable industries, particularly the current potato crop.
A 10 minute storm caused devestation to the far central western NSW town of Nyngan shortly after 3PM today. Although only 14mm was registered in the official gauge, torrential rain fell accompanied by golfball-sized hail and winds strong enough to destroy 3 houses, partially or wholly unroof a further 27, including 3 schools, the fire brigade headquarters and 10 businesses, and significantly damage a total of 595 buildings. Damage occurred within a 5km radius of the town. Two people were injured by flying debris, road signs bent to the ground, cars were damaged by falling trees, and power and phone lines into the town were cut. At the town's oval, the roof from the grandstand was blown off into the swimming pool, with parts of the roof landing 200 meters away. The Insurance Council of Australia estimates damage to be $20 million, a figure far greater per thousand head of population than the severe storms which hit Armidale, Singleton and Coffs Harbour last year. Damage to council resources such as water and sewage mains alone was estimated at $1 million. Rescue teams totalling 70 SES volunteers came from half a dozen neighbouring towns to assist with repairs and debris removal late in the day and overnight. Meanwhile, 15,000 homes in the Upper Hunter were blacked out during the evening in a violent electrical storm.
There are still 91 fires active in Victoria today, of which 85 are said to be under control. The largest, in the Alpine National Park in East Gippsland, jumped a river and moved eastwards overnight. Around 500 firefighters continue to prepare control lines around approximately 50% of the fire's 110km perimeter. Estimates of the area already burnt varied between 30,000 and 40,000 ha, or 300 to 400 square kilometers. A large US water-bombing aircraft reaching the fire zone this afternoon, capable of dropping 9,000 litres per drop, 3 times the capacity of aircraft currently being used. Southeast, the Croajingalong NP fire near Cann River is under control, having burned through 3,700 hectares. During the day, four smaller fires broke out near Toolangi, Horsham, in the Otways and in the Buckland Valley near Ovens.
In NSW, 60 fires are still burning but under control, and the last emergency declaration for the state, in the Eurobodalla Shire, has been lifted. An declared emergency continues in Yarrowlumla Shire, west of Canberra.
Tropical Cyclones Ron, Susan and Katrina, all lying between Australia and the International Date Line, are giving forecasters headaches as their interactions complicate prediction of their movements. TC Ron is almost on the Date Line, moving southwest and threatening Samoa, northern Tonga, and the Wallis and Futuna Islands. With a central pressure of 900hPa, Ron is a remarkably compact system with sustained winds of 125 knots near the centre, but gales extending outwards to only 100km. TC Susan has also turned to the soutwest and today is northeast of the Banks and Torres Islands in northern Vanuatu, and likely to move to the east of the island nation. It also has a central pressure of around 900hPa, with sustained winds of 140 knots and gusts to 170 knots. Further west again, TC Katrina lies about 1000km east of the north Queensland coast, but is weakening with winds only around 40 knots and a central pressure barely low enough to be considered a cyclone.
The National Climate Centre of the Bureau of Meteorology is predicting the present strong El Nino will weaken in coming months. In a press release issued today, the Head of the Centre, Mr Bill Kininmonth, said "Sea surface temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean remain at up to 5 degrees C above normal, but the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) rose by six points during December to a value of -9. Also, sea surface temperatures around tropical Australia are more than 1 degree C warmer than normal thus providing a local source of moisture."
December rainfall totals in tropical Australia were average to above average, reaching record levels in southern parts of the Gulf of Carpentaria as a result of tropical cyclone Sid. "Although it is more usual for early wet season tropical rains to be suppressed and for a break down of El Niņo's influence around February or March, an early onset of summer tropical rains is not unprecedented in an El Niņo", said Mr Kininmonth.
On the ABC's National Rural News, today, the NCC's Mary Voice gave some more detail: "The El Nino pattern itself, the sea surface temperature pattern, is still quite strong. However what we're seeing is quite strong warming of ocean temperatures around Australia. So in the Coral Sea, to the north of Australia, to the west of Australia in the Indian Ocean, and a little bit to the south-east, a lot of warm water is building up around Australia.
"Eventually that warm water dominates over the El Nino pattern as the El Nino pattern declines, and we get good rainfall over Australia, and in 1982 it broke in March and April, March in the tropical north and April/May down in the Southern States. In 1972, there was an El Nino and I think it was January 1973 that that El Nino broke. And the sea surface temperature patterns look somewhat similar to that.
"We'd normally see the monsoon systems penetrating well into the continent. At the moment they're tending to stick towards the northern edge of the continent, but we would see the monsoon systems penetrating further south and the breakdown of the high pressure system that tends to dominate the south-east of the continent, so that frontal systems can come through and then we can get some good falls of rain. That's what we'd be looking for; we're not seeing the signs of that particular situation just yet though. So while we're saying there's a good chance that El Nino's set to decrease, we're not saying next week, we're just saying perhaps earlier than March."
Over half of the northern areas of Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia received above-normal rainfall in December, not typical of an El Nino "wet". Parts of southeastern WA, southern SA, and northern NSW also recorded good December rains. Victoria, on the other hand, was especially dry, with parts of West Gippsland recording their driest-ever year, and Melbourne its second driest.
A return to normal temperatures across southeastern Australia, and some useful thunderstorm rain in eastern NSW allowed firefighters to contain and in some cases extinguish fires during the day. These included NSW fires south of Bega, near Cessnock, and in the Myall Lakes National Park, Hawkesbury Shire and the Central West. In Tasmania, fires in Launceston and the Derwent Valley were being mopped up. In Victoria, better weather conditions were allowing a fuller appraisal of the enormous Alpine National Park fire which now has a perimeter of over 100km. However, a major fire, believed to have been deliberately lit, killed stock, threatened houses and burnt out 50ha of land near Puckapunyal about 100km north of Melbourne. In WA, a fire east of Bridgetown in the state's southwest burnt about 350ha of bush and pasture and 50ha of blue gum plantation, as well as threatening houses.
Tropical Cyclone Katrina in the northern Coral Sea and ex-TC Sid in the Gulf of Carpentaria weakened today and remained nearly stationery, although heavy rain continues to fall around the Gulf coast. By day's end, neither was expected to cause deteriorating weather in Queensland. Part of the reason for their remaining quiet has been the sudden strengthening and southwestward movement of TC Susan to the east of Vanuatu. Late in the day, Susan was generating average winds near the centre of 115kts with gusts to 140kts.
A storm which is being compared to the 1987 hurricane which swept through southeast England brought wild weather to England and Wales today. Heavy rain, gales, snow and hail have blocked roads, brought down power lines, caused widespread property damage and caused flooding both from rainfall runoff and breaching of sea defences at high tide. By this afternoon, more than 70,000 homes in England and Wales were without power, mostly in the west. Wild seas were keeping ships in port, and damaged one 900-passenger and vehicular ferry sailing from Harwich to Hook of Holland. An Atlantic low of around 940hPa, which cut across the north of Scotland, was responsible for gales during 3 January. At noon UTC on the 3rd, the barometric pressure gradient between Stornoway, off the northwest coast of Scotland, and Plymouth on the south coast of England was 47hPa, causing widespread average winds of 30 to 45kts and gusts of 50 to 70kts in between. Today's wild weather is being caused by a secondary depression of around 960hPa moving across Ireland, with pressure drops of 16hPa in 3 hours in southern Eire at 06.00UTC, and a peak gust so far reported of 76kts at Culdrose on the south coast of England.
Across the Channel, gales and high seas have pounded the French, Spanish and Portuguese coastlines, blacking out 300,000 homes in Brittany, causing widespread damage and road closures, and leading to the likely loss of sailors from two yachts and a trawler, as well as a tourist washed from a pier in Portugal. Waves 7 meters high crashed into the Spanish coastline around San Sebastian, smashing many fishing boats.
Three cyclones are now spinning in the monsoonal trough spanning the southwest Pacific. Weak Tropical Cyclone Katrina is in the central north Coral Sea, about 800km ENE of Townsville and nearly stationary, but expected to move away to the southeast. TC Susan is to the ENE of Vanuatu and moving towards the island nation. TC Ron is relatively week and lies northeast of Fiji. Meanwhile, a watch is being maintained on ex-TC Sid, now in the Gulf of Carpentaria. It is most unusual to have this many active cyclones in the southwest Pacific at the one time.
Although it remained unseasonably hot in the north of WA, the heatwave belt in central and eastern states moved a little northeastwards today, easing conditions in the areas worst hit by bushfires. During the afternoon and evening, thunderstorms were again widespread across eastern NSW, but this time brought useful falls of from 5 to 40mm to many parts of the coast, tablelands and nearby slopes from the Illawarra north to the Queensland border, greatly easing the situation on most fire fronts, although causing worries for firefighters at Myall Lakes as a brisk southerly swept through.
In Victoria, the fire in the Alpine National Park in East Gippsland had burned out an estimated 30,000 ha, and, although about 400 firefighters were clearing lines which will ultimately contain the fire, it was regarded as virtually uncontrollable due to the remote and rugged country in which it is burning. It is regarded by fire authorities as the largest fire in Victoria since 1985. Also in East Gippsland, a fire in the Croajingalong National Park, has burned 3,000 ha, and others are burning near Cann River and Orbost. More than 30 fires were burning during the day in Gippsland and eastern Victoria. At Mount Napier, near Portland in the state's west, a fresh fire during the day burned 100 ha before being brought under control.
In NSW, although conditions were easing, about 50 fires were burning including more than a dozen that began during the day. One which began in Coopracambra State Park in far eastern Victoria spread over the border into Nungatta National Park and Yambulla State Forest.on the far South Coast overnight. Other significant fires continued to burn in the Hawkesbury and Hunter regions. The fire in the Wollondilly valley west of Camden continues to burn after six weeks, and press reports indicate about 50,000ha has been burnt out. Fifty campers were evacuated from the Deua National Park, near Moruya on the South Coast, where several major fires are still burning. Elsewhere, the Wingello fire has been extinguished, and fires at Myall Lakes and at Stanwell Tops north of Wollongong have been contained.
In Tasmania, the Launceston fire was brought under control after burning out about 100ha and damaging installations in the Gorge park, but a fresh fire was causing concern at Gretna in the Derwent Valley.
Heatwave and bushfires continue 4 Jan 1998
Top temperatures again exceeded the old Century mark across a broad swathe from the northwest coast of WA to the southeastern tip of the country. The Bureau's maps show maximum temperatures and departure from normal for the day, with the band of greatest heat lying in the northwesterly winds east of a nearly stationery trough.
In WA, the Pilbara and Gascoyne regions again sweltered, with Onslow automatic weather station and Wittenoom reaching 48C, and all stations reaching at least 44C. In SA, conditions were cooler in the west and near the coast, but still reached 44 to 45C in the northeast. In Victoria, there was an enormous temperature contrast between inland areas, where Yarrawonga topscored with 43C, and coastal parts: Wilson's Promintory's top of 18C and Melbourne City's 23 were both 3 below the January average. In NSW, it was again the west, south and central parts of the state that suffered, with temperatures 8 to 12C above average. Wilcannia, White Cliffs, Broken Hill, Menindee, Ivanhoe and Hay all reported maxima of 43C. In the Sydney basin, Penrith, Camden and Horesly Park recorded 40C.
With the strong daytime heating and proximity of the trough, widespread scattered thunderstorms again broke out during the afternoon and evening in eastern NSW and eastern Victoria. One which struck Murrurundi in the upper Hunter Valley shortly before 9PM brought marble-sized hail and 34mm of rain, however most storms were dry or brought little rain.
Thunderstorms in NSW on Thursday night were again responsible for starting fires in widely spread parts of the state. Some 11,000 lightning strikes were recorded in the storms, but accompanying rain was mostly a few millimetres or less -- 31mm at Nullo Mountain in the upper Hunter valley being a notable exception. During the day, about 30 fires were burning -- in the Myall State Forest north of Newcastle; near Singleton, Merriwa, Wollemi, Rylstone, Lithgow, the Blue Mountains, and Hawkesbury Shire north and west of Sydney; near Campbelltown, Helensburgh, Wingecarribee, Yalwal, Wollondilly and the Deua National Park to the southwest and south of Sydney; in the Brindabella Ranges near Canberra, and near Gunning, Bombala, Tumbarumba, Young, Boorowa, Harden and Tullibegeal. The fire in the Douglas Range near Yallambie in the shires of Young, Harden and Boorowa, began from a lightning strike just after midnight and had burnt through about 3,000ha by midday. A further 7 fires were burning in the area where a state of emergency was declared, and additional firefighters and equipment brought in from Albury.
In eastern Victoria, the fire which began north of Licola in east Gippsland on New Years Eve burnt through 6,000ha of the Alpine National Park in the Calendonia River area, and is moving into inaccessible country. Firefighters are describing it as the worst in Victoria in a decade, with strong, hot winds and rugged terrain hampering operations. Up to 600 firefighters, 11 fixed wing aircraft and 5 helicopters attended the fire today, and areas north of Licola are being evacuated. . Another Gippsland fire has burnt through 200ha south of Cann River in the Croanjingalong National Park.
In SA on the Murray River near Overland Corner, a fire in scrubland burnt out several hectares during the morning. And in Tasmania, a blaze in Basin Reserve in the heart of Launceston was water-bombed, but had not been extinguished when operations ceased at nightfall.
Monsoon remains active across tropical Australia
A strong monsoon continues to operate, with monsoonal northwesterlies now stretching from the Kimberleys, across the Gulf of Carpentaria, and east to beyond the International Date Line. Rain and storms during the 24 hours to 9AM were generally 10 to 30mm across the north of the Territory and Queensland but much higher on the Far North Queensland east coast and around the southern Gulf. Small lows have formed in the monsoonal trough near these areas, and are being watched for potential cyclone development. The meteorological station on Willis Island in the northern Coral Sea recorded 115mm in a steady downpour between 9AM and 6PM, 71mm falling between 9AM and noon. Darwin Airport reported 101mm in the 36 hours to 9PM in a succession of thunderstorms interspersed with rain, whilst Katherine recorded 163mm during the same period, 86mm falling between 9PM on the 1st and 3AM on the 2nd.
Hot weather continues in the West and Southeast; bushfires again active 3 Jan 1998
High daytime temperatures again caused bushfire concerns in Victoria and NSW. In the Wingello State Forest southwest of Bowral, NSW, one firefighter was killed and 7 injured, 3 seriously, when they became trapped in a firestorm. This brought to 4 the number of deaths caused by the fires since last November. North of Newcastle, NSW, a bushfire which has burnt out 700ha of the Myall Lakes National Park, and is still out of control, caused the evacuation of 1500 campers from Mungo Brush and White Tree Bay. In Victoria, a blaze which started from a campfire on New Years Eve rapidly escalated during the afternoon. By the end of the day, it had burnt 3000ha of Alpine National Park north of Licola. Arson was believed responsible for grassfires which threatened houses in Melbourne's northwest, burning out 100ha near Westmeadows. Meanwhile, isolated thunderstorms across eastern Victoria and NSW during the late afternoon and evening contributed to firefighters' worries.
Heatwave conditions continued through much of northern WA, most of SA and Victoria, and in the west and south of NSW. The Bureau's maps show maximum temperatures and departure from normal for the day. A near stationary trough lying southeast from central Australia is the culprit, dragging down hot northwesterlies on its eastern side.
In SA, top temperatures were 8 to 14 degrees above average across most of the state, with Tarcoola's 45 degrees (10 above normal) being the highest. Whyalla, with 43 degrees, was 14 above, and Adelaide's 39 was 10 above. In NSW, century-plus (higher than 38C) conditions spread from the west of the state through the Riverina to the Southern Highlands: Cooma with 37 and Deniliquin on 42 were 11 above normal, and the state's highest temperatures was 43 at White Cliffs and Ivanhoe. Broken Hill had an uncomfortable night, with an overnight minimum of 29.4, 11 above average. In Victoria, top temperatures 8 to 12 degrees above normal were commonplace away from the coast, 41 at Ouyen, Swan Hill and Kerang being the highest, with Beechworth's 39 and Noojee's 37 being the greatest departure from normal -- 12 above. In WA, top temperatures of 45 to 47 degrees occurred across much of the state's north.
Monsoon continues to dampen Far North Queensland and the Territory's Top End
The monsoon trough lay from the Kimberley in WA, through about Katherine in the NT to Cape York Peninsula in Queensland. Moist air converging into the trough gave Palmerville on the Peninsula 129mm to 9.00 AM. Dorisvale in the Territory reported 123.6mm. Katherine received 113mm from a succession of thunderstorms which lasted much of the night of New Years Eve.