From time to time you come across accounts of extraordinary weather, and feel glad that you were not there yourself. Here are three from eastern Australia. But they’re not recent. I owe them to Professor John McAneney, about whose work on extreme weather, risk and damage I have written before. You can read the full account of the third event at the Risk Frontiers’ Quarterly Newsletter, Volume 14, Issue 2, November 2014, here.
“Whatever is coming over this country! People struck almost lifeless in the streets, animals falling as though killed by some insidious disease and man and beast in city and country in torture! Anyone who went through Sydney yesterday as a stranger might well exclaim, “If this is their sunny New South Wales, Heaven help them!” Who has known business ashore and afloat literally stopped on account of a high temperature rendering men physically unfit for duty! Nor does it appear in the whole of the authenticated weather history of the colony that anything like it has been known.” [Sydney Mail, Saturday 18 January 1896].
“THE WEATHER.-Saturday was one of the hottest days we ever remember. The recent rains having saturated the earth, the atmosphere was impregnated with an arqueous vapour not unlike steam issuing from a boiler, while the sun poured down all the fury of its heat. It was dreadful. Man and beast groaned beneath the oppression, and numbers of working oxen dropped down dead on the public roads. In the evening, as usual, we were relieved by a “brickfielder”, a stiff southerly gale, wafting health and vigour upon its blessed wings. On Sunday night, we were visited by a tremendous storm of thunder, lightning, rain, and hail. The lightning was magnificent beyond description, spreading over the whole canopy of heaven, and assuming a thousand varied forms. The storm broke heaviest over Parramatta, where the artillery of the skies roared and cracked in deafening peals, making the very houses totter.” [The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Tuesday 21 February 1832].
“ON Saturday the 19th of September  the town of Newcastle on the Hunter, was visited by a thunder-storm, the recollection of which, from its accompanying phenomena, will not soon be obliterated from the memory of its inhabitants. On the day preceding there had been a hot wind from the N.W., the thermometer in the shade under my verandah having stood at 84° at 4 P. M., and the evening having set in with lightning to the S. S. E. and S. W., the thermometer at 8 P. M. having showed 70°, while showers fell at intervals during the night, to the great refreshment of the cattle after so long a period of dry weather. At 8 A. M. on Saturday the 19th, the thermometer stood at 62°, the morning being dark and showery, and at 2. P. M. it had risen to 66°.
On a sudden, while sitting in my house — the roof of which is by no means one of the strongest — after a flash of lightning accompanied by thunder, I was roused by a loud noise as if the rafters had given way, and the whole roof were coming down; my impression being at the moment that the house had been struck by lightning, I immediately ran out, and was soon put in possession of the cause of my alarm, when I beheld large masses of ice falling with the utmost fury from a dark cloud, which was moving with considerable velocity in a direction from about S. W. by S. In the space of five minutes the ground was as white as it would have been in England, had it been covered to the depth of an inch and a half with snow. The thermometer immediately fell to 63°. The hail-stones which descended in a continuous torrent, varied in size from five to six inches in girth, and were generally either of an ovate or circular form, but irregular in their superficies, being studded with the projecting points of the various crystals, and they were highly pellucid. In the centre of each crystalline mass was a circular opaque body, of the size and appearance of a common hail-stone, which it would seem in each case, in its way towards the earth, had passed through a cloud, whose watery particles became frozen, and adhered to it in its descent…
“It is not often that hail-storms of such violence occur amongst us. Upon reference to my journal, I find that on the 7th of February, 1831, at 7 P. M. there was a heavy thunderstorm at Parramatta, which was accompanied by a fall of pellucid hail-stones, some of a large size and varying in figure… Again from the same source it appears, that on the 7th of October of the same year, a violent hail-storm with thunder and lightning did much mischief on the farm of J. Glennie, Esq., of Dulwich in the district of the Hunter, and upon that of J. Bowman, Esq., Ravensworth, some of the hail-stones which fell on this occasion, measured six inches in circumference…
“In The Australian Almanack for the year 1829, we read the following. “Hail-storm, May 14, 1798–Many of the stones six inches in circumference. They killed poultry in abundance, knocked down lambs, and were truly terrific even to the superior order of being — man. This certainly was the most dreadful hail-storm ever remembered, for the freezing of the atmosphere had been so extremely intense, that the shower was excessive and its violence unendurable.” Again — “In 1812 a severe hail-storm at ten miles distant from Sydney, some of the stones were entire flakes of ice, one of which was eight inches in circumference, January 18.”[The Colonist, Sydney, Thursday 1 October 1835]
John McAneney’s team has assembled a database of natural hazard events across Australia — 16,400 of them since 1642, from which these accounts come. They are of course about weather, not climate, but they do tell us that extreme weather events have occurred many times before, have occurred very recently in Sydney and Brisbane, and doubtless will do so in the future.