The dramatic appeal of Big Weather can wear thin.
2012 was, to use the sporting cliché, a year of two halves for growing grass at Emerald Hill. In the first half, the summer was cool and damp, and the damp weather continued into autumn and the first part of winter. 594mm of rain fell on 68 rain-days up to 26th July[i]. The lower areas of pasture were always too wet to let us to get a truck on to spread chicken manure as we had planned.
Then, in the second half of the year, the rain stopped. There were only 3 rain-days yielding a total of 27mm between 26th July and 7th November. It started to rain again as the summer began, with 109mm in November and December. However, the weather also got hot, with temperatures frequently over 30°C from early December. Temperatures increased further in January, culminating in many days above 40°C as the spectacular ‘Dome of Heat’ developed over the middle of the continent because of the delayed arrival of the tropical monsoon.
It is an ill will that blows no good, so in mid-January I tried to turn the hot conditions to some farming advantage by booking a double load of chicken manure to spread while the going was good and calling the stock agent to see when I could buy some good Angus cows to expand and replenish the Emerald Hill breeding herd.
For us, Australia’s hottest summer on record both peaked and ended on the afternoon of Friday 18th January, when the Dome of Heat pushed one last bulge out to the east coast. The temperature at Sydney Observatory reached 45.8°C in mid-afternoon, but then met a very strong cold front travelling up the coast from the south, so that the evening was cool and very windy and there was a steady drizzle by the following morning.
The front paddock at Emerald Hill in good times
I follow the developing narrative of Big Weather in the weekly column in The Land written by Don White of Weatherwatch. Don’s article of the week following the 18th January noted that the monsoon had finally developed in northern Australia and that increasing air moisture was spreading south bringing more normal seasonal conditions. His outlook for the first half of 2013 was that a neutral pattern was likely to remain in control, which, “combined with slightly warmer than normal sea surface temperatures has the potential for unexpected change.”[ii]
We have had 467mm of rain in 19 rain-days at Emerald Hill since 18th January. Most of this has fallen in three big ‘rain-events’.
The week after the record heat, Cyclone Oswald came down the coast of New South Wales instead of moving out to sea from Southern Queensland. 170mm fell 27th-29th January. That is a lot of rain, but the river system was quite empty after six dry months. However, we had a relatively small flood that inundated the paddocks for three days, but did no harm to roads, fences or pasture.
Three weeks later, 96mm of rain fell 22nd – 24th February. The river system was still charged after the rain in late January, so there was a very big flood, with a fast rise and fast flow that washed away fences and road surfaces.
The front paddock of Emerald Hill on Sunday 24th February[iii] – look for the fence
14 head of Noonee Angus, being rescued from the flood by our neighbour, Richard Gulley
Roads and bridges were passable again, if very rough, by Tuesday last week (26th February). However, most of the paddocks were still under water three days later when 86mm more rain fell on 1st – 3rd March. Emerald Hill has been cut off again since Saturday, and is likely to remain so until at least mid-week.
I got out of Emerald Hill ahead of the flood on Friday afternoon so that I could put January’s cattle-buying plan into action at the Angus breeder sale in Maitland on Saturday afternoon. I bought six good young cows (though I had to get Kristen’s advice by phone because he was marooned at the farm) but the cattle are being held at Maitland sale yard until we can bring them home. On Thursday we will make the fourth attempt to get a delivery of chicken manure. Like last year, it seems unlikely that we will be able to spread manure on the low paddocks this year, and the prolonged inundation will have drowned much of the grass.
Don White’s column of 24th January concluded with an ominous observation: “Heat stored in the world’s oceans is now near record high levels and the effects of this are unclear other than to say it will influence the weather and temperature patterns for years to come.”
Apparently, I have to accept that all this is not Big Weather, but The Weather.
[i] The rainfall figures are those collected and recorded by our neighbour, Allan Ryan, at ‘Grove Hill’ – the farm opposite our front paddock
[ii] The Land, 24/1/13, quoted by kind permission of Don White of Weatherwatch
[iii] Flood photographs reproduced by kind permission of Normie McIntosh