A tree snapped in half in the Grafton CBD at the intersection of Prince and Victoria streets from damaging winds in a severe thunderstorm at Grafton on Thursday, 23rd January, 2020
A tree snapped in half in the Grafton CBD at the intersection of Prince and Victoria streets from damaging winds in a severe thunderstorm at Grafton on Thursday, 23rd January, 2020

Forget the forecast: Heatwaves, freak storms and record lows

CAN we no longer trust the weather man? Or could we never really in the first place?

Is it now a case of greater unpredictability because the climate is changing and becoming more erratic so rapidly that predictive models based on historic evidence is next to useless?

One thing's for certain, despite all their satellite data, the latest in technology and decades of modelling data, they got it terribly wrong this summer.

We kicked off November with this quote from the Bureau of Meteorology:

"The summer outlook suggests ... most of eastern Australia remains likely to be drier than average."

Pointing to a weather map akin to a "bad chest X-ray", the "extremely positive" Indian Ocean Dipole led to predictions of less rainfall and higher than normal temperatures across almost all of Australia in another BOM report.

While by the end of November the BOM had identified a glimmer of rainy hope for some parts including Western Australia, it warned of a 60-70 per cent chance moisture levels will continue to be below average throughout the east.

"Later in the summer rain should increase," the report said. "But if anywhere is going to miss out it will be NSW and southern Queensland."

Well we didn't miss out, thankfully, with a wet start to 2020. Just a shame for so many communities that it didn't arrive even a month earlier.

What wasn't entirely predicted however, adding to the suggestion of greater unpredictability in the air, was the damaging thunderstorm that hit Grafton on January 23 despite being outside the BOM's official severe thunderstorm warning area.

 

A tree completely uprooted in Fitzroy St from damaging winds in a severe thunderstorm at Grafton on Thursday, 23rd January, 2020
A tree completely uprooted in Fitzroy St from damaging winds in a severe thunderstorm at Grafton on Thursday, 23rd January, 2020

VIDEO: Freak storm smashes Grafton out of nowhere

AFTERMATH: Jacaranda City lashed by damaging storm

WIPEOUT: Five minutes of mayhem

After Grafton welcomed almost double its average rainfall (268mm) in January, the current low pressure system has already dumped 118mm in Grafton, while 193mm was recorded in 24 hours at Lowanna in the upper reaches of the Nymboida River catchment, and similar figures in the northeastern pocket of the state.

Now those same communities south of Grafton recovering from bushfire devastation are being cut off by floodwaters.

 

The northeast corner of New South Wales was hit with intense rainfall in the 24 hours to 9am on Friday, 7th February, 2020.
The northeast corner of New South Wales was hit with intense rainfall in the 24 hours to 9am on Friday, 7th February, 2020.

 

And get this: Grafton's Thursday maximum of 22.3 degrees was the coldest on record (from 2003) according to Weatherzone, slipping under the unseasonal 22.7 degree cold snap which kept lovers under covers on Valentine's Day in 2009.

Following the weather certainly is an interesting pastime these days - never a dull moment as it oscillates from one extreme to the other. So much for glorious one day, perfect the next... normality is so passé.

This decade has started with a new collective 20-20 vision of a more proactive and responsible approach to our future.

Now it's time to actually take care in every decision we make. This is our last chance to save the planet.

The Australian bushfires are arguably the tipping point on this slippery slope. There's no going back entirely. Mass extinctions have eventuated, prehistoric ice is gone, fragile coral reefs are a memory. But we can still slow it down before Earth simply becomes uninhabitable for life itself.

How much of a miracle it is we have this narrow window of equilibrium that sustains life - water, atmospheric conditions, temperature, magnetic forces - seems lost on many. There's a reason no other life that we know of exists in the universe - because the odds of the precise parameters required of occurring are ridiculously small.

A couple of degrees might be all it takes to end it all.



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