Hail Delivers, Wind Claws Back

The bureau of meteorology’s radar view showed the large black mass of an intense storm sweeping our way.

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We switched off the computer and disconnected all powerpoints…While I was shutting windows, putting batteries in the radio and getting ready for what might follow, Damo took snaps of the storm front. At his call I went outside and saw, for the first time, clouds turning green. The colour is caused by forming hail. Damo had witnessed this before when living in Mackay.

He was so fixated on the storm’s approach that I ushered him indoors. I knew how hard and fast these fronts can hit in Brisbane. More like a bomb blast than a storm front, caused when supercells form. Last year one hit so violently everything went white – quite frightening when you’re in traffic and can’t see anything. When a storm front hit the year before that it took all the strength Jeff and I could muster to shut the back door as it hit.

The front slammed into Wynnum at one thirty in the afternoon – you can see it hit in the photo – just moments before the net curtains (bottom left, used to protect newly planted silverbeet seedlings from sunburn) were ripped away. A bamboo culm, complete with leaves and being used to protect the mangelwurzels from sunburn (centre), flew under the house. Three Bangalow palms lining my neighbour’s driveway snapped at the top as did a twenty year old eucalypt in a garden across the railway. A branch was ripped from the row of Bribie Island Pines lining my neighbour’s property. Last year one of those trees was split in half and we ended up clearing it from their roof…

Wind forced rain under the window panes and up inside to wet the windowsill. The tin roof roared as hail crashed down. The broad, fragile, fleshy leaves of the Kalanchoe beharensis in the front garden looked as if they’d been shot at. The banana, arrowroot and taro were instantly bent and shredded. Fine, crumbly needles from the Bribie Island Pines choked the downpipes. In a moment water cascaded over the guttering, being ripped away horizontally by the wind blast. The two bamboos at the end of the garden, whipped back and forth, lost a few leaves, but shrugged off the experience.

Seven minutes later the storm had passed, the sun started peering through the clouds and the storm was on the horizon over Moreton Bay. Thunder made the floors vibrate. Street gutters raged and the road surface was left mulched with shredded debris.

Water had been jet blasted under the house to puddle, but the garden soaked up all 20 millimetres that had fallen. The rainwater tank is now four fifths full – it would have probably been filled had that debris not blocked them, but at least I didn’t need to water that day.
Thursday has been a non-gardening day. Cleaning up debris. After a blissfully warm, still and humid night I rose to bright sunshine, small clouds scudding across the sky – and howling, howling winds. Impossible to tidy up well or stake or tie plants up…

I’m wondering if there’s a pattern because each time we experience an El Nino when significant storms form and rain falls, the following day(s) almost invariably seem to have gales. One day Sydney Botanic gardens would be soaked and flailed by the elements, and two days later it would be dried up again, in need of follow up rain. Seeing repetitive gales follow rain, negating the benefit of storm falls, means soil dries out rather than being moistened. Unless soil is mulched and wind is calmed by thick garden plantings, walls and buildings.

This January, during what’s now known as the worst drought that Australia has experienced in 1,000 years, our garden received 176mm of rain. The 50 year average for January around here is 155 – 160mm, so on paper it looks like we did well. But last January was also consistently warm, intensely sunny – and gales and breezes following rain sucked back almost everything that fell on the soil that wasn’t used by plants the same day. So what appeared to be useful January rain proved of little use other than filling our rainwater tank.

I recall how much more frequent and ferocious winter gales started becoming in London (and the south east of England) during the 1970’s. England’s current water shortage is party due to low winter rainfall and higher than average evaporation rates. Apart from Climate Change meaning more erratic rain with increasingly dumping falls occurring more widely apart, gales robbing soil of the rain that does fall seems to me to be a too-infrequently mentioned phenomenon.

The chainsaws and chippers are still cleaning up…while the Burnett district’s citrus growers are counting the cost of this devastating storm.

SBS Online has a good report on the cost of failing to act on Climate Change now at:
www9.sbs.com.au/theworldnews/region.php?id=132723&region=5

Jerry Coleby-Williams