We just happened to look up from our editing machines as the lightning struck full pelt across the horizon. Ominous black clouds rushed across the skyline as Melbourne’s corporate tower blocks were swallowed one by one by the encroaching bank of torrential rain. It may have been 2pm, but the sky was so dark our screens had automatically adjusted to twilight settings. No wonder our eyes were straining. We looked up at each other puzzled. Hadn’t it been blazing sunshine just half an hour ago?
Melbourne has the reputation of having four seasons in one day. Popular TV panel show The Gruen Transfer even made a point back in 2013 of advertising nearby Tasmania as the most cost effective destination for the 2024 Olympics as you could hold both the summer and winter Olympics in the same venues, on the same day. Two for the price of one you may say.
This volatile climate is mainly down to two factors: wind direction and topography. Wind from the south comes straight over the ocean from the arctic and creates wonderful ski slopes around Mt Buller east of Melbourne. Yes, you can ski in Australia. Google it. Wind from the north comes straight from the hot desert where the first three Mad Max films were shot. As Melbourne is by the sea, and air warms and cools at different rates over land and the ocean, wind is common. Add a lack of mountains (such as the Rockies along west coast USA) to hold hot or cold air pockets in place and you get days where the wind suddenly changes causing a 38 degree day to turn into a 21 degree afternoon. And vice versa – this is what makes it all so exciting. Yes, it’s not for everyone. It gets cold, but it also gets really hot and having a good mixture ensures we never get too bored with either. And with a floor to ceiling panoramic view from the top floor of our studio & living space, we thoroughly enjoy the show.
Melbourne isn’t the only place in Oz with rather spectacular choreographies going on in the skies. Perth’s extremely hot, super-dry summers, inherently unstable atmosphere and close proximity to the dusty, iron-ore-red outback have brought forth spectacular dust storm cloud formations. Slap one of those rust-orange towering walls topped with a froth of swirling charcoal thundercloud above the azure ocean and you’ll see where Fury Road got its colour palette. Perth also boasts the most costly natural disaster in Western Australia’s history, when a particularly ferocious storm cell on the 22nd of March 2010 caused over $1 billion damage.
The 27th of November 2014 saw another vicious weather system hit Brisbane. Huge tennis-ball sized hail showered down on parts of the city, smashing all windows on one side of our Dragon’s brother’s house and pock marking cars all along the street. Ominous dark, swirling clouds eventually passed, leaving what has until hours before been an early summer’s evening looking like it had been hit by a freak blizzard. More than 100,000 homes lost power supply due to 642 power lines brought down, 39 people were injured and a number of planes were flipped over at Archerfield Airport. Over 500,000 insurance claims for hail-damaged cars took over a year to process and repair. Brisbane is otherwise a lovely city with wonderful warm weather. Just don’t mention the 2013 ocean foam buildup on the nearby sunshine coast that blanketed roads, resorts, caravan parks, back yards, houses, cars, dogs, gerbil cages and unsuspecting German tourists in what looked like a 2m deep Ibiza club foam party. Just a few big-ish waves and rough seas during a cyclone, that’s all. Nothing to see – move along!
To steer clear of severe weather, all you need to do is avoid the East Coast, West Coast, South Coast, Tasmania and the centre of the Australian continent. The Northern Territory may be home to an abundance of man-eating crocs, but at least the climate is friendly. That is if you are a being from hell. For Australia is rather well known for its devastating bushfires that in the case of a 2003 alpine fire, destroyed 41 homes and over 1.3 million hectares of land. The most fire prone areas may be in the southern states (Victoria being the heaviest hit), but one plucky cameraman in Alice Springs managed to capture the moment a fire was sucked up into a tornado. Yeah Sharknado might have been fun, but this shit is real!
Australia’s extreme weather is destructive, no question about it. However, as with most things in life, there is another side to the bat-shit crazy weather that is incredibly creative. Certain plants such as the Banksia have evolved to rely on bush fires for re-production, where seed pods only open due to presence of extreme heat. Indigenous Australians have used fire to cultivate grassland and create tracks in dense bushland, allowing for plants and animals to thrive, making bush fires an essential part of Australia’s ecology. For us mere humans, being able to ski, surf huge waves, relax on tropical beaches and trek through rust-red deserts and dramatic wind-swept rock formations all in one country makes Australia an incredible place to be. Don’t even get us started on the clouds…