Wet-season skies

The thunderstorms of the last few days have given way to thick, rain-heavy clouds and intermittent rain and drizzle; no big downpours, but we’re going to get some good totals if it continues.

From Mundingburra, the view of Mt Stuart (584 metres) tells us what the weather is doing. Here’s the mountain this morning from Aplin’s Weir, with its transmission towers rising out of low cloud.

Mount stuart, Townsville, in low cloud
Ross River and Mount Stuart

Townsville’s weather in 2019 – what happened?

The last few days have brought us some genuine early-Wet weather: heat, humidity and thunderstorms. We have recorded our first double-digit rainfall totals in months, so it feels like a good time to see what really happened last year.

The BoM released its Annual Climate Statement for 2019 a fortnight ago. It named last year as Australia’s warmest and driest on record but there were notable local exceptions: Townsville (1761 mm) and the middle of Western Queensland scored their wettest year on record. (So did the tip of Cape York, one spot on the WA coast and one spot on the Tasmanian coast, which reinforces the feeling that our weather is getting ever crazier but is not otherwise relevant here.)

Four years ago I divided our years into “dry”, “wet” and “average”. By that simple measure, 2019 was very clearly a “wet” year, but that label masks the fact that almost all our rain came in two discrete events, the fortnight of the floods and a week at the end of March.

Townsville daily rainfall 2019
Townsville daily rainfall, from BoM

A map on the BoM’s Drought page shows that our August-December rainfall was the lowest on record, and the daily stats show that we only received 80 mm between the end of March and the end of the year.

australia drought map 2019

The outlook for 2020

What’s on the horizon? The BoM regularly publishes weather outlooks and their latest summary (Jan 16) says:

  • The chances of a wetter or drier than average February to April are roughly equal for most of Australia.
  • Daytime temperatures for February to April likely to be above average across almost all of Australia except the southwest, with February to April nights very likely to be warmer than average for most of the country.
  • The positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) and the negative Southern Annular Mode (SAM) phase have ended, meaning most climate influences are now neutral.

Their past accuracy has been very good (they publish it on the same page but their links often change so I won’t share this one) so I’m sure they are right in general terms.

We are certainly in for a warm year. We would know that even without the BoM forecast, since (as this poster shows so graphically) global warming is continuing unabated. As the annual climate statement says:

The mean temperature for the 10 years from 2010 to 2019 was the highest on record, at 0.86 °C above average, and 0.31 °C warmer than the 10 years 2000–2009. All the years since 2013 have been amongst the ten warmest on record for Australia. Of the ten warmest years, only one (1998) occurred before 2005. Warming associated with anthropogenic climate change has seen Australian annual mean temperatures increase by over one degree since 1910. Most of this warming has occurred since 1950.

However, Townsville’s Wet-season rainfall is so wildly erratic that we still don’t know how much to expect. Local folk wisdom has long said that, “We don’t get a good Wet unless we get a cyclone,” to which we must now add, “or a rain depression,” but it’s probably more useful to say that these big events are superimposed on a dry, wet or average year.

In those terms, 2019 was a very dry year with a rain depression; 2020 looks like being a more normal year overall, but we won’t know about any big weather events until they arrive.

Dyschronia

cover of Jennifer Mills novel DyschroniaI was going to add my comment on Dyschronia to the dystopian fiction reviews collected here but decided that it deserved its own space on the blog, and perhaps on our bookshelves.

It’s a Australian novel from an author new to me, Jennifer Mills. Both its setting and its mood reminded me of Randolph Stow’s Tourmaline (1963); so did the quality of the writing, which you may take as high praise since I have always liked Stow. But this is very much a novel of our own time, not the early sixties: pollution, corporate amorality and climate change are the existential threats to the fragile township and its residents.

It’s a challenging but rewarding novel and I look forward to reading more of Mills’ work. Most of the rest of what I would have said about Dyschronia has been said in this review in the SMH, so I will leave you in Gretchen Shirm’s capable hands.

 

Unexpected visitors – Magpie Geese and Black Cockatoos

I have been keeping a running tally of birds visiting our Mundingburra garden on this page and it is going well (about 30 species since May 2019) but two lots of recent visitors deserve more attention, so here we are.

Magpie Geese

I noted ten days ago that we had been hearing and occasionally spotting Magpie Geese, Anseranas semipalmata, in the early morning, perhaps on their flight path from wherever they spend the night (presumably somewhere further up Ross River) and where they spend the day feeding (perhaps Anderson Park). We are now seeing them quite often in the middle of the day as well, and last Thursday a group of them settled in the top of a neighbour’s tall gum tree.

Magpie Geese
Magpie Geese in a gum tree

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