Spring in the Dry Tropics

Spring here in Townsville is so different from Spring in temperate climates that the word sets up all sorts of wrong expectations. Coming out of a cold winter and enjoying the first sunshine for months? Fruit trees bursting into blossom? Sudden wild storms? Everything green and growing? None of the above.

The word needs scare quotes here, or some other warning that it’s nothing like an English Spring, or even a Victorian Spring. I’m going to put it in square brackets: Spring is what Tolkien would recognise, [Spring] is what we get.

We’re well into our Dry season, having had less than 5 mm of rain in the ten weeks since mid-July, and everything is parched and dusty. Many of our native trees drop some or all of their leaves to conserve energy, although some of them (Bat-wing Coral Tree, for instance) do also flower around this time. Exotics like Tabebuia and Poinciana follow the same pattern, so there are always bright spots in our streets and gardens.

townsville from castle hill
Townsville in [Spring], seen from Castle Hill
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Many Peaks Range and Magnetic Island

My very first impression of Townsville’s landscape, thirty years ago, was of dead-flat land interrupted by peculiarly isolated hills and ranges, and it has only been reinforced over the years by views and events.

The views? Getting to know the topography from the top of Castle Hill, Mt Stuart or (most recently) Mt Marlow on the Town Common reveals a coastal landscape of mangrove flats rising (minimally) to the suburbs which wrap around the bases of the hills, with Ross River, Ross Creek and the Bohle River winding lazily through them.

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Look at all that lovely water!

A visit to Kelso on Saturday gave me a chance to see Ross Dam, nearly full again after dropping steadily from this time last year until the last week of January.  The sign said it was at 85% but the number doesn’t have the same emotional impact as the view from the dam wall.

Ross Dam nearly full
Ross Dam, looking from the wall towards Toonpan and Barringha

It’s raining as I write, and the BOM is forecasting more rain in coming days – up to and including a possible cyclone – so it’s quite likely the dam will fill before the Wet season ends in about a month.

What we’ve had so far this year, according to the BoM, is about 600 mm since the last week of January.

What we would like, of course, is just enough rain, nicely spread out through the month. What we will get is, as always, unpredictable.

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.)

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