Last week Sydney put on one of those weather events that it does so well. Just when we thought winter was going to be all clear days and crisp nights, it poured with rain, and rained some more just to make sure we remembered that winter was here.
People always seem to be surprised when the weather turns away from sunny warm days. But Sydney has a long history of wild weather events.
The first recorded major event was a grand summer storm.
This one hit the First Fleet on 6 February 1788, the day the female convicts came ashore. The humidity was rising, the sky suddenly darkened. They could feel the electricity building in the air. This was no drab English mizzle, the convicts were wondering where they had been brought to. Lightening ripped across the sky with thunder booming overhead. The newly arrived colonists, still with their sea legs, shrank beneath the awesome display. And awesome it was, with lightening striking trees around the camp, killing six sheep and a pig!
More remarkable still was an event in June 1836. On Tuesday the 28th, Sydneysiders woke to a fall of snow in the town. At around 7am, snow began to fall over the entire Sydney area, the first time it had been recorded since the arrival of the First Fleet, and one of the few times ever. It sat one inch deep on the ground and The Sydney Herald reported that the Aboriginal occupants stared at so unexpected a visitor, while the Europeans, who remembered white English Christmas’ fondly, hoped secretly that they had left regular snow falls far behind.
What is more usual is hail. Sydney likes to put on a good hailstorm every few years. They are regularly recorded in the newspaper and remembered in popular memory. Big ones in 1886, 1903, 1925, 1935, 1943 and 1947 all caused damage.
But the mother of all hail storms swept in over Sydney’s eastern suburbs and inner west on the afternoon of 14 April 1999. Of course these storms don’t just appear from nowhere and had been tracked by the Bureau of Meteorology through the afternoon.
But for the 1000s of Sydneysiders who were in cars at 7.45pm that night or hadn’t caught the news it didn’t matter. The storm had brewed up at sea south of Nowra and by the time it crossed the coast near Sydney it extended upwards on 10km into the atmosphere. It was a supercell. For 15 minutes in rained icy hell over Sydney. Hail the size of cricket balls smashed in windows, battered cars, broke roof tiles and caused ceiling collapses and flash flooding. All up 20,000 buildings, 40,000 cars and 25 aircraft were damaged. The total cost was estimated at $1.7 billion.
Who said Sydney’s weather was boring?