Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Showers contracting to the north-east corner

These menacing clouds moved in over Byron on Thursday last week, by Saturday the hail came.
The title of this post was an oft repeated ending to the weather segment on ABC news by Mike Bailey, the ABC's venerable weatherman.
If there was any rain happening in NSW, Mike would invariably end the weather with this statement, showing on the map the clouds arrowing in on Byron Bay.
As a boy growing up in dry old Bathurst, it didn't mean much to me.
But when I moved to the said north-east corner and I really began to understand what he meant.
Byron Bay, as is well known, is the Eastern most point of the Australian mainland, and as such acts as a snag to any cloud going past.
Once snagged by the steep slopes of Wollumbin (Mt Warning), or the lighthouse cliffs, the clouds would give up the struggle to sail free over the Pacific ocean and dump their pregnant loads of water on our coastal living heads.
I remember five or so years ago listening to the Country Hour on ABC radio as I drove and the weather guy there was saying that 96% of NSW is in drought, or drought affected, I knew without research where the four percent that wasn't was.
The Rainbow region, as it is colloquially known, is known, regionally as the Northern Rivers, and that is an apt term.
And those rivers have to be fed by something and that something is the relentless procession of clouds hooked down by the coastal cliffs.
Norman Maclean, who wrote "A River Runs Through It", said, "I am haunted by waters".
I never quite felt that, but I was always fascinated by large bodies of water, and I think this is due to the dryness of Bathurst in the eighties.
The Macquarie River - a rare photo, there's water in it.
In this period I went on holidays, with my brother and mother, up to the north coast.
It was a life changing experience for me.
I remember looking out the windows of the car at this strange green stuff growing everywhere.
I had never seen such a lush verdant landscape before.
In retrospect, it was the moment I began planning my escape from Bathurst.
Some of you reading this still live there and that's fine, but it wasn't for me.
As a small boy of nine staring in fascinated wonder out the car window at a landscape that was more green than brown the whole desire to escape Bathurst burgeoned within me and, in the end, came down to one moment.
We crossed a small waterway called Salt Pan Creek and I looked down through the bridge stanchions and marvelled, "THAT'S A CREEK!"
It was wider and deeper than the hapless MacQuarie River of Bathurst by a considerable margin, and up here it was only a creek.
So if Salt Pan Creek was amazing, the Maclean River at Grafton was a religious experience.
The Maclean river - "There's Boats on it!"
Not the death shoe for a giant
mafia informant, but a measure
of Tully's rainfall.
This mighty watercourse was so big that a) boats could go up and down it, and b) you could fish in it.
Neither was possible on the Macquarie.
So with all this water up here, we have had our own way of life more or less thrust upon us.
Lismore, for instance, is the most flood affected town in Australia.
It doesn't get the most rain, that title is held by a clear margin by Tully in North Queensland, famously demonstrated by this concrete gumboot.
The gumboot stands 7.9m high and represents the rainfall in Tully in 1950, of 7900mm.
Additionally, Tully once got 1140mm (45 inches) of rain in one day.
To try to put that into context, Bathurst, for instance, has an annual rainfall in January of 68mm (2.7in) and Tully got twenty times that in a day.
Flooding in Lismore? - Take your pick.
So back to Lismore, whilst not in the Tully class for sheer volume of moisture arriving from the heavens at terminal velocity, it has a lot of issues with floods.
This is mostly due to the geography of the place, sitting as it does at the base of the caldera of the now extinct volcano, Wollumbin, the water comes down and then follows inexorably a circuitous path down to the low point, and that term is exact, believe me, of the area, Lismore.
So much is flooding a way of life for the residents up here that when I went onto my search engine to bring up some pictures of flooding in Lismore, I was spoiled for choice.
Lismore, as you can see below, had flood issues in 2010 through 2013, and every other damn year, but the menu dropped off the bottom of my screen at this point.
The Lismore floods of 1974,
the town is in there somewhere.
So much so, that when I looked I had to think hard about the flooding of this year, it was so "minor" that it escaped my memory.
Minor flooding in Lismore means the Wilson river only rose five metres.
The two worst years for flooding in Lismore were 1954 and 1974.


Global Warming

Which brings me, almost eternally, to global warming, and its immediate consequences.
Every year that goes by without us reducing our fossil fuel burning, the flooding is going to get worse.
Now this perennially complex issue is one difficult to describe, but a common technique used by right wing news organs was to finish a story about global warming with a two second sound grab from some crusty oldster, who would turn to the camera and say "I've never been so cold in my life."
This grab would be incredibly powerful and people would come away from the story with the feeling that it's all Ok, and if there are any consequences, they will not be visited upon us for hundreds of years.
Sadly not so, and the first symptoms of this global convulsion will be Extreme Weather Events (EWEs).
These will take many forms, normally temperate cities will have summer temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius for two weeks on end, dropping to 35 degrees (maybe) at night.
Cyclones will lash the coasts for not three days, but ten.
Cold snaps will snap colder, and deeper.
Scouring winds will pour out of the deserts and blow for days on end.

Already these events are playing havoc with insurance premiums, with the government being increasingly called upon to underwrite the repair bill.
Said governments are already becoming increasingly reluctant to do so, yet to obviate the need for paying out for repairs, they are unwilling to close a coal mine to stop the damage occurring in the first damn place.
Maybe those loonies who stood on street corners in sack cloth and ashes shouting "the end is nigh" will finally be proved right.

Global Dimming

Then there's global dimming.
What's this?
Global dimming was a phenomenon first brought to light in the wake of 9/11.
After the planes hit the towers, an immediate halt was brought to all flights in North America, while the whole mess was sorted out.
And in this flight hiatus, a climate scientist then got some data no one expected.
He had climate stations set up across the continent, from Alaska to Florida, and in the three days of no flights, the average temperature of the continent went up by one degree.
I know it doesn't sound much, but one degree in three days is an awful lot.
Turns out that the aircraft vapour trails were reflecting massive amounts of heat away from the Earth.
So we have set up this awfully uneasy system, if flights stop again, for any reason, the volcanic explosion in Iceland was one good example, the temperature of the planet could rise faster than anyone ever supposed.
What can we do about it?
Simply turning off a light or two, if done in every building in the country, could solve the problem.
Else, Lismore will lose its unwanted title of 'flood capital' of Australia, and anytown, Australia, will begin vying for the title.
So in closing I'll refer to a novel I read by John Wyndham, The Kraken Wakes.
It's a science fiction novel about creatures from Jupiter who colonise the Earth.
Due to the almighty pressures of the gas giant, the only place they can survive on Earth is in the very deepest parts of the ocean, where the pressures are comparable to their home planet.
A conflict begins between us and them, and the creatures of the deep move atomic reactors under the poles and begin melting the ice, to cover the planet with more water.
As the water levels rise, a slow, but ever increasing panic begins and people begin fleeing the ocean shores for higher ground.
At one point a character is watching the building of levy banks to protect the city of London.
Another character asks, "Is this going to work?"
To which the first character says, "No".
So he is asked, "Well what can we do about it?"
His response applies to us if we don't start turning off some lights and shutting coal mines, and is:
"Find a hilltop and fortify it."



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