Really extreme weather, in our patch

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 [1835] 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.

Join the discussion 20 Comments

  • whyisitso says:

    You will recall how Climate Change was blamed for the Brisbane river floods a few years ago, until it was linked to poor management of the Wivenhoe dam. In fact Brisbane River flooding was much more severe from 1840 to 1900. The excessive property damage in the 1974 and 2010/11 floods were more the result of allowing people to build on a flood plain.

    Of course people like your regular commenter David will no doubt point out that this graph actually shows how dry it’s been since 1900, due to gerbal warmin’.

    • dlb says:

      While agreeing that the property damage in Brisbane is largely due to building on a flood plain I take issue that poor management of Wivenhoe caused the 2011 flood. From what I have read the flood would have exceeded the record 1893 levels had Wivenhoe and Somerset dams not been in place. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, better control of the water release may have reduced the peak slightly.

      The flood occurred because of very heavy rainfalls in the catchment, something that happens from time to time in subtropical localities. Agree there is no need to blame “Climate Change”.

  • JMO says:

    Just imagine this happened today… concluding evidence of climate change – rising CO2, fossil fuels are to blame, call for more renewables, RETs, carbon pricing -even close down fossil fuel ppower stations.

    The shrieks from the loony left greens, planet savers, brainwashed youth would be unrelenting, calling to imprison deniers (maybe set up re-education camps),

    This climate change fiasco has made many weather wimps.

  • David says:


    One of your classic evidence free posts. 🙂 Meanwhile 2014 is on track to be hottest on record.

    My apologies for posting a fact on your blog. 🙂

    • Gus says:

      2014 is NOT the hottest year on record. 1998 and 2010 were “hotter.” And, of course, we do know that the 1930s were generally warmer still, in the US and in Russia–this is what available records tell us, though no global data exists for the planet prior to 1979.

      • David says:

        Not on the data you supplied to me the other day.

        Medium rare, thanks.

        • Gus says:

          Well, I’m looking at the satellite data I had pointed you to the other day, that is

          and I don’t see the current year as being any warmer than 2010 and 1998 at all. The current year is fully comparable to 2005 and 2007, and the tiny blip in temperatures is easily explained by the solar activity double peak in cycle 24.

          The solar indices peak in April this year was the highest since 2002. It would be strange if the Earth atmosphere did not respond to it, as the Sun is the #1 driver of atmospheric and oceanic dynamics, the latter with about 35 year delay according to Zhao and Feng (see below for reference).

          The abatement in solar activity is expected to be slow. For the measured and predicted numbers see

          Look at the last table in the data, observed monthly sunspot numbers. What you see is a peak, 87.6, in September, and the peak, highest in this cycle, in February, 102.8.

          For more on how Sun interacts with the Earth’s climate see, e.g., doi:10.1016/j.asr.2014.08.016; this paper covers cycles 20 through 23. Also see doi:10.1016/j.jastp.2014.11.004, I may have pointed you to this paper already. It talks about the correlation between solar activity and Antarctic temperatures over the past… 11,000 years. The authors note:

          “The millennial variations of SSN and T had a strong and stable correlation. Correlations between CO2 and T were neither strong nor stable.”

    • Don Aitkin says:

      In what sense is the post ‘evidence-free’? It consists of eye-witness accounts of extreme weather events, for the most part carefully described by observers, given the technology available to them.

      In comparison, the WMO statement is a projection, accompanied by the usual breast-beating by officials who make these statements whenever there is an opportunity. And there has been an incipient el Nino in the past few months, which has had some effect on temperature. Not only that, even if 2014 is one of the hottest years, it is the long-term absence of a warming trend that is most significant, it seems to me.

    • dlb says:

      You beat me to it again David! I was going to say this post is nothing but anecdotal reports from uneducated people, before the Bureau started serious scientific recordings of the weather. The reports are probably published in the 19th century equivalent of Murdoch newspapers.

      What more can I say 🙂

      re your link to the “the GBR is doomed” United Nations. I don’t know where they get their temperature data? I have just had a look at the HadCRUT series the trend from 2002 to now is slightly down (P 0.04)

      • dlb says:

        Sorry, the P value is 0.54, the data is too “noisy” to ascertain a trend.

      • David says:

        You can go first, next time. 🙂

      • Don Aitkin says:


        Should I infer that you think we know nothing about temperature or weather prior to the Bureau?

        Why do you think that these papers,were the equivalent of the Murdoch press? Are you thinking of a Fairfax counterpart that would not have published these accounts? What would it have been?

        What is your evidence for asserting that the people who wrote these accounts were uneducated? On the face of it, all were able to write cogently, to describe and to measure.

        And do you have confidence in the present work of the Bureau, given the discovery of older warm periods in some places have been homogenised so that they have become colder. It may be sheer coincidence that these changes provide a stronger warming trend. But not everyone is convinced. What about you?

        • dlb says:

          You are absolutely correct Don.
          I was wondering whether or not to add the sarcasm tag at the end, obviously the ‘smiley” was not enough. I just couldn’t help parodying views I so often see hear.

          Sorry for having you waste your time.

  • Gus says:

    Extreme weather happens every now and then. Such is the nature of weather. Stupid people, since time immemorial, have been blaming it on their brethren’s sinful ways, beginning with the story of Noah. It makes for amusing reading, but poor science. It’s vexing that people would still fall for such humbug today, though it should be born in mind that the affliction is mostly limited to journalists, politicians, economists, enviro-fanatics and other people of questionable (and apparently wasted) education.

    Scientists generally know better: there is little support for such fantasies amongst geologists, geophysicists and physicists. Here are the Conclusions from Kovalenko’s and Zherebtsov’s (they are from the Institute of Solar-Terrestrial Physics) latest paper on this, published in Atmospheric and Oceanic Optics last month (November 2014, doi:10.1134/S1024856014060104):

    “Results of the conducted analysis of regularities in variations in the geomagnetic activity and thermo baric characteristics of troposphere and ocean within the considered model, as well as accounting for fast changes in the global circulation in the atmosphere and ocean allow the conclusion that the significant heating in the 20th century can be conditioned by variations in the solar activity level. There are foundations to believe that the global heating is actually currently terminated, and we can expect a slow decrease in GAT in 2010–2040, first of all, in the Northern hemisphere above the land.”

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