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.

Moving towards a plant-based diet

In Eating for the Planet (two years ago) I argued that the ideal diet is “one which minimises harm to the environment and to animals while maximising benefits to our health. There is no logically necessary connection between the three objectives but there is a ‘sweet spot’ where all three happen to coincide: a plant-based diet emphasising fresh, local, seasonal food.”

carbon footprint of meats and other protein
Environmental footprints of various proteins, from the Environmental Working Group, UK.

Since then, calls for all of us to adopt a plant-based diet for the sake of the environment have become ever more frequent and more urgent. Not entirely coincidentally, I have been moving towards such a diet myself, and thinking about how to do so as easily as possible. After all, if a change seems worthwhile and isn’t too hard, then more of us will try it.

Changing the lifetime habits of a household all at once may be impossible but what if we can gently move in the right direction – one dish at a time, one meal at a time, and maybe have some fun doing so? Continue reading “Moving towards a plant-based diet”

School Strike for Climate – Townsville

The School Strike movement – SS4C – is a remarkable phenomenon, having grown from one lone teenager’s action 15 months ago to a global action which brought millions onto the streets and parks of major cities and small towns alike on Friday 20th September. Media coverage has been good enough that I don’t feel I need to say more about that here.

We attended the Townsville rally, at Strand Park. I haven’t seen official figures but my estimate was around 500 people, which is encouraging for a community of 200 000 even though it can’t compare with the thousands in Melbourne and Sydney.

School Strike 4 Climate Townsville
The crowd at Strand Park

I was struck by how happy, peaceful and positive the whole event was, and by how inclusive. Continue reading “School Strike for Climate – Townsville”

Jourama Falls in the Dry

jourama falls walking track
The walking track to Jourama Falls

On the way home from the trip which took me to the Dalrymple Track and elsewhere I stopped off at Jourama Falls. I didn’t walk up to the falls themselves because I saw from the creek – still flowing, but only just over the camping ground causeways – that the effort would not be well rewarded.

This photo, however, confirms just how dry the country is now.

Townsville is the same, but we know Townsville is in the Dry Tropics; Jourama is not far from Townsville, so we shouldn’t be too surprised that it’s dry; but both are drier than usual, and Cardwell, definitely in the Wet Tropics, was nearly as bad.

Townsville’s 2019 fire season

Winter is traditionally followed by Spring but not here, and not in the era of climate change. Last week was Winter; this week is the Fire Season.

Perhaps that is a little melodramatic, but it’s justified by the conditions we have experienced recently. The fire season is already well under way, as it usually is by this time of year, and we have had several very smoky days in town but today was exceptional. Late this morning I could hardly see Mount Stuart from the Rising Sun intersection on Charters Towers Rd, so I visited Castle Hill with my camera to see what I could see from there. It wasn’t pretty.

View over Kissing Point to Magnetic Island
Looking over Kissing Point to Magnetic Island

Continue reading “Townsville’s 2019 fire season”