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Winter arrives in southern Australia...at last!
Updated 9/7/17: new third paragraph, Giles temperature record added at end of story
Winter has arrived with a bang across all of southern Australia during the past week bringing record-breaking cold nights, snow to TAS and WA and the long-awaited substantial falls across the Australian Alps.
Freezing weather began last weekend, 1 and 2 July, when a strong high planted itself over NSW, VIC and TAS giving a string of exceptionally cold nights that set new low July temperature records in the three states. In many cases, the temperatures were all-time lows as well as being July records, and in ten cases records were broken on one night only to be broken again the next night. The provisional records, still subject to confirmation, are given in the Daily Weather Summaries for Saturday 1 July, Sunday 2 July and Monday 3 July.
Very dry air away from the coast helped the temperatures to plummet with many locations reporting dew points below -10°. The dew point is the temperature to which the air must be cooled to reach 100% humidity, at which point dew or frost are formed, a process that releases heat and slows the normal night time temperature fall considerably. When the air is dry and the dew point very low, the temperature can continue to plunge unhindered by this slowing mechanism.
Notable records included Rutherglen VIC, with a 99-year history of minimum temperature reports, which set a July record low of -6.9° on Saturday only to make a repeat performance with the same figure on Sunday. Also in VIC, East Sale Airport set a new all-time minimum in a 72-year history on Monday, its reading of -6.6° knocking 0.8° off the former record set in 1976. Records were broken well into western NSW with Broken Hill (-2.9°) and Wilcannia (-3.1°) setting new all-time lows on Saturday. Wilcannia then made it a double-breaker, with -3.7° the next night.
The coldest temperature over the three nights was -10.4° at Liawenee on the frigid Central Plateau in TAS on 3 July. No cigar for this temperature though, as the station's record is -12.2° set in 2013. Other low minima for each state are given on the State Extremes pages for Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The run of lows in Canberra of -8.7°, -8.2° and -7.1° across the three days shows why parliament doesn't sit at this time of the year.
Special mention must be made of Goulburn, where there is some confusion over the only other double-digit negative minimum recorded during the period. The airport there had three bitterly cold nights in succession from 1 to 3 July: -9.7°, -10.0 and -9.4°. These stood out because they were the equal coldest, coldest and second coldest nationally for each morning. The -10.0° on Sunday 1 July is the figure in contention. It is currently in the official database as -10.0, but the Bureau itself reported the minimum as -10.4° on Sunday morning, raising some question as to what it actually was.
| This was the view from the balcony of South Perisher Club Lodge over the valley of Rock Creek at 15.00 today. This snow cam is rare among those in the Alps in that it is not run by ski centre managements, and does not show optimistic views of ski runs where much of the snow can be man-made. Until Monday, this view was of alpine meadow, snow gums and rocks. South Perisher Lodge
The first true snow of winter arrived in the Alps on Monday 3 July with good falls across all resorts, but it was not until Wednesday that heavy snow began. By mid-morning, this video from Perisher Mid Station made it very clear the snow had arrived. Snow depth at Spencers Creek, between Perisher Valley and Charlotte Pass in the NSW Snowy Mountains, shot up from 4cm on 29 June to 43cm a week later, way ahead of the depth at the same time last year, but still below the long-term average of around 80cm at this time in the season. Depths at other skiing centres were similar, and have continued to increase slowly with further snow and sub-zero temperatures. By Friday, even the relatively low Mt Buffalo was accumulating snow.
There were some notable snowfalls away from the Alps. In WA, Bluff Knoll, the highest point in the Stirling Ranges, 75km NE of Albany and 1,099m above sea level, is one of the few places in the state to experience some snow each winter. This week it excelled itself as successive fronts brought two snowfalls in the one week. The first was on Sunday 2 June, setting many locals on pre-dawn treks up to the summit. They were rewarded with what locals told ABC News was the heaviest fall in years. By Wednesday 5 June, when a second wave of cold air was due in the afternoon, the word had obviously got around as a cavalcade of snow-lovers arrived from all over the place, booking out the local accommodation and again trekking up the mountain in the pre-dawn dark. Word from farther west was that the air was indeed cold - Dwellingup, in the ranges SSE of Perth, had a maximum temperature of just 8.8°, its coldest day in 42 years. Unfortunately, those on the Bluff were mostly rewarded with chilling cold and biting wind, but light snow did fall late in the afternoon although, from photos, significantly less than on Sunday. The diehards who waited into the night may have been rewarded with heavier falls.
Tasmanians are much more accustomed to winter snow, with a good polar blast purging the state of its unseasonable warmth overnight 29/30 June. Snow fell down to 300m, including above Kingston and on the eastern ridges of kunanyi/Mt Wellington. Higher parts of the Huon Valley as well as Vinces Saddle, on the main Southern Outlet between Hobart and Kingston, were coated with snow, and black ice on roads was partly responsible for at least one death. On the Central Plateau, blizzard-like conditions prevailed, and at Cradle Mountain young wildlife experiencing its first snowfall had visitors reaching for cameras to capture the cuteness, like this Tassie devil and this wombat. ABC News gives a good coverage.
The cold air through the week didn't move as far north as the tropics, but it did get to Brisbane by Friday 7 July when a cloudy, showery day gave a top of 16.4°, the lowest July maximum since 2010 and the lowest for any month since 2013. On the same day, a combination of cold lower-level air and high pressure gave Yulara a minimum temperature of -3.5°, just 0.1° shy of the Rock's record low in 30 years of recording. Over the border in WA the next day, 8 July, Giles weather station recorded a minimum of -2.5, its all-time lowest temperature on record in 61 years of observations.