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Local Climate - Costerfield District

Extremes of weather have been documented on many occasions in the Heathcote district since the early days of settlement. Some examples of the variability of the local climate covering the period 1859-1875 and for which meteorological records are unavailable, are as follows:

"... Within the last few days the residents on McIvor have experienced to the full the variableness of our Australian climate - midday excessively hot, and the evening so cold as to render an extra coat necessary. Last Sunday was the most oppressive and unpleasant day we have known this season ; a strong hot wind prevailed the whole day, accompanied with such terrific clouds of dust, as kept most people within doors ..." (The McIvor News and Goulburn Advertiser, 9 December 1859);

"... The meteorological disturbances which have for the past two years exercised so baneful an influence on our climate, as to almost reduce the country to a desert, appear to give way to greater regularity ..." (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 15 June 1866);

"... It must be remembered that the whole of the underground drainage is so salt (sic) that it is positively useless for any purpose, and our climate is so treacherous that it is never to be depended on ..." (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 25 March 1870; and

"... As an instance of the changeable nature of the weather we mention the fact that the thermometer outdoors on Sunday evening stood at 52 (oF) (i.e. approximately 11.1 oC) having fallen over 100 o (F) (i.e. approximately 37.8oC) in little more than a day" (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 28 January 1875);

The local climate of the Heathcote-Costerfield district is ‘semi-arid’ or ‘mediterranean’ in character, so that, generally speaking, the winters are cool and wet whilst the summers are hot and dry. The highest probability of violent electrical storms exists in summer and these can often yield high intensity downpours (Lorimer and Schoknecht 1987). The autumn break of rain supplies moisture for the sowing of crops and soil water accumulates in the wetter months, to be drawn upon by the vegetation during warmer periods.

Climatic extremes take many forms and examples for which information is available include hurricanes, heavy rainfall, frost, hail, snow, drought, heat, bushfires and dust storms.

1. Hurricanes

The effects of hurricanes that occurred without accompanying rain were recorded in The McIvor News and Goulburn Advertiser on 18 February 1859 and The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser on 27 January 1865. However, an association with heavy rainfall was more common. For example, on 8 December 1862, a storm

"... at one time presented more the appearance of a water-spout than a fall of rain. A curtain of water apparently falling, completely obscuring the buildings across the street ; the hurricane in the meanwhile veering to all quarters of the compass. The duration of the first and most destructive part of the storm did not last above ten minutes, when the sun again broke through the clouds. This state of things, however, only lasted a few minutes, when a second storm of rain and hail commenced, giving High street (i.e. the main road in Heathcote) the appearance of a river ..." (The McIvor News and Goulburn Advertiser, 12 December 1862).

In 1894, a near-cyclone was followed by torrential rain which caused the “... Wappentake Creek to run a banker, ... the road there being rendered nearly impassable by fallen trees and branches, which were strewn thickly upon it ...” (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 22 February 1894). These were not isolated occurrences: other such events were described in The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser on 18 December 1868, 31 October 1878, 15 February 1883 and 19 March 1896.

The nature of damage caused to vegetation is illustrated by the following excerpts from newspaper reports: “Trees were cracking and falling down every moment ...”, “... immense trees were blown up by the roots ...” and “(s)everal large trees were knocked down by the force of the wind ...” (The McIvor News and Goulburn Advertiser, 18 February 1859 and 12 December 1862 and The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 14 February 1878 respectively). Lightning was known to have shattered large trees (e.g. The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 24 January 1868). On 30 September 1867, “... (t)errific squalls, accompanied by hail... were followed by a continuous succession of hail and rain showers, with violent gusts of wind, which menaced those buildings which cannot boast of strength ...” (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 4 October 1867).

2. Heavy rainfall

The Bureau of Meteorology station at Heathcote is situated at 244 m Above Sea Level (ASL) at the Post Office and staff record precipitation information for both local consumption and transmission to Melbourne. The relatively broad isohyets covering the area between Costerfield and Heathcote are suggestive of a zone of comparable annual rainfall (Boucher 2002). The annual average precipitation is approximately 57.5 cm with a pronounced winter-spring pattern being evident. Most rainfall tends to be recorded in the period between April and October. Whilst the highest annual total of 1048 mm was recorded in 1973 (Bureau of Meteorology 1992), the mean yearly evaporation for Heathcote was predicted to be 1420 mm (Spate 1980b). No official precipitation records have been made at Costerfield although a comparison with data kept by a local farmer indicates that differences in annual totals exist over a few kilometres. This finding was substantiated through field measurements of storms made during an hydrologic study of a small area located between the two rain gauges (Boucher 2002). The differences in rainfall may be attributed to a possible orographic effect generated by the McIvor Range (390 m ASL) and Mt Ida (450 m ASL) which are situated between the two recording stations.

Reports of flooding in the district were frequent in the local newspapers, as far back as 1858. For example, heavy rainfall was noted in the 10 March 1871 issue of The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, with a total of 3" 29 points (i.e. approximately 84 mm) in 24 h found to be higher than any daily total measured during the previous wet winter. The earliest daily rainfall charts available date from 1 January 1882. Owing to a lack of data, the storm of 10 February 1883 was the only instance for which the intensity of heavy rainfall could be established. The storm approached from the south-east at 3 pm and lasted 1.5 hours, flooding the township (Bureau of Meteorology 1883). The total rainfall was 7.5 ” (i.e. 179.1 mm) with an average intensity of 2 mm/minute (i.e. approximately 120 mm/hour) for the duration of the storm. The following account of the event describes the impact on the surrounding landscape.

“... The residents here had barely recovered from wonderment occasioned by the storm above referred to (i.e. the hailstorm of 8 February 1883) when, on Saturday afternoon they had to encounter a thunderstorm, the like of which was never known here for severity and the suddenness of its effects. The storm commenced in earnest shortly after three o'clock, the rain pouring down in torrents for over an hour and a half, about 7 inches falling in that short time. Altogether the rain lasted about two hours. The creek, which previously was almost dry from one end of the town to the other, became a rushing torrent, being flooded for a considerable distance beyond its banks, rendering it impossible to cross any of the bridges, the water rising very rapidly. From the range and gullies to the west of the town the water rushed down in torrents, the ground on the sides of the range and flat being covered, and the streets were flooded. Several head of cattle, two horses and some sheep were seen to be carried down the creek and drowned ... When the storm ceased the flood quickly subsided, and people were soon able to cross the bridges that remained over the creek ... Altogether considerable damage was done to public property in the Borough ... On the Old Antimony and Wappentake Creeks a lot of fencing and other property was destroyed, Mr G. Cook's garden being flooded, causing great damage and loss ...” (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 15 February 1883).

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3. Frost

Frost has occurred in the Heathcote district on occasions too numerous to mention and has caused damage to vegetation and livestock.

A very severe frost injured crops on the morning of 4 December and was followed by “... excessively hot weather during the day ...” (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 9 December 1870).

“... The frosts which usually follow the bright, warm days, have, in some cases, destroyed all chances of a good crop.” (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 16 August 1877)

On the nights of 12 and 13 June, frosts were described as being “... exceedingly sharp...” and caused a “... destructive effect on stock ...” which had already been harmed by the general scarcity of pasture. At 7 am on the morning of 13 June, the temperature was 22oF (i.e. approximately -5.5oC) under a verandah and even the tops of the “... highest bush trees were covered with frost, presenting a white appearance. The weather has since changed and this afternoon heavy rain fell” (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 16 June 1892).

4. Hail

Observations of hail have been frequent in the Heathcote district from the time of early settlement and examples of some of the storms involved are summarized below.

On 8 December a hurricane “... commenced discharging a copious supply of rain, mixed with hail stones of immense size, which did a large amount of damage to the various stores and buildings ...” (The McIvor News and Goulburn Advertiser, 12 December 1862);

A storm on 16 January inundated the immediate locality and “... (s)ome pieces of hail were 5" (i.e. 12.5 cm) in circumference ...”(The McIvor 10:52 AM Rodney Advertiser, 24 January 1868);

On 16 December, a storm left hail between 5" (i.e. 12.5 cm) and 6" (i.e. 15 cm) deep on the ground. This event took place within days of the hottest day which had been experienced in the Colony for some years. (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 18 December 1868);

On 9 February, “... the hail and afterwards the rain came down in torrents with a hurricane blowing at the same time ...”. A resident, “... in endeavouring with his son, to keep the roof on his dwelling, was struck by a large hailstone, or rather a small block of ice, and had his eye as effectually blackened by it as if struck a blow with the fist ...” (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 14 February 1878); and

On 15 August, a hailstorm left the ground as though it was covered by snow (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 20 August 1886).

Apart from the above-mentioned newspaper reports, a Bureau of Meteorology record made on 8 February 1883 contained the following details. The path of a storm was from north-east to south-west and it commenced at 8:15 pm, lasting 15 minutes. Seventeen points (i.e. 4.3 mm) of rain also fell. The hailstones were described as being as large as goose eggs, one weighing 3 oz (i.e. approximately 85 g).

5. Snow

Although subjected to a semi-arid climate, snowfall was recorded in the Heathcote district on a number of occasions in the nineteenth century.

On the night of 5 July, “.. we experienced a slight sensation of the old country weather. Between eleven and twelve o'clock, p.m., snow commenced to fall in considerable quantities ...” (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 7 July 1865).

On the morning of 10 August, “... about half an inch (i.e. 1 cm) of snow fell, and made things look like Christmas in the old country ...” (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 16 August 1872).

Light falls of snow were observed on two or three occasions on 17 August, which was the coldest day so far this winter and reminded inhabitants of weather in the old country. Snow fell “... fast and thick ...” at Spring Plains enabling snowballs to be made (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 24 August 1876).

Snow fell at Tooborac on 28 May (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 31 May 1877).

A light fall of snow occurred at Heathcote on the morning of 20 July. The fall was heavier at Tooborac (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 26 July 1895).

6. Drought

What is probably one of the earliest recorded droughts (e.g. Bureau of Meteorology 1989) following European settlement in the Shire of McIvor was observed in the winter of 1838. In a letter to Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe dated 19 August 1853, Captain Charles Hutton made the following remarks:

"... 1838 was the year of the great drought, and it was only by having my marching establishment complete, and thus constantly shifting my ground, that I was enabled to keep the stock alive. When I came into that district in July the ground was exceedingly dry, the grass apparently dead (although after the first rain it grew again most luxuriantly), the water-holes very low, and for nine months there was not even a moderate shower to freshen the herbage. Consequently there was no attraction for settlers, and I had no neighbour, except those I have mentioned, during my stay there. I am informed that there are now between 200,000 and 300,000 sheep depasturing on the Lower Campaspe Plains, where, in 1838-39, there was not grass enough to feed half-a-dozen goats" (Hutton 1853, 247-248).

The incidence of drought as reported in the local newspapers was illustrated in the section on heavy rainfall. Several examples of the severe effects of some of these droughts included several crushing mills being idle as at 8 February 1867 and thistles dying (1 April 1870). The scarcity of water at Costerfield in 1878 was such that it was being carted (10 January) and sold by the bucket (24 January). The following description of the Costerfield environment was also written before the turn of the century:

"... The bush is as bare as the road and presents a very dismal appearance. Stock are in very low condition and many are not expected to survive the winter. Several horses and cattle have already succumbed to the severity of the season." (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 5 March 1896).

7. Heat

Records of high summer temperatures in the Heathcote district date back to the 1850s. Instances were mentioned in the introduction to the section on ‘local climate’ with respect to climatic variability but other examples related to high temperatures are worth noting for their environmental effects.

In the issue of 11 January 1854, the correspondent from The Argus newspaper based at Heathcote wrote “110o (F) (i.e. approximately 43.5oC) in the shade will give your subscribers some idea of the awful warm weather ... during the past week ...”. Intense heat was experienced on 31 December 1866 and 1 January 1867 to such an extent that it “... melted the wax in a great number of the bee-hives in the district ; and in a great number of instances the honey has been lost ... the weather was hotter than it has been for years past ...” (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 11 January 1867). In the next edition of the same newspaper, it was noted that the “excessive heat of the past few days naturally leads people to seriously contemplate the benefits of a good water supply ...” (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 18 January 1867). The hot summer weather was also linked to bushfires.

On Sunday 29th we were favoured with a "regular brick-fielder", and the hottest day of the season, the thermometer registering 115o (F) (i.e. approximately 46.1oC) in the sun, and 109o (F) (i.e. approximately 42.8oC) in the shade, and the atmosphere being hot and dry, and the air heavily charged with smoke from bush-fires ... (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 2 February 1882).

Hot, dry winds have also been documented frequently in the local newspapers and meteorological charts for Heathcote during the summer season.

8. Dust storms

The Heathcote newspapers recorded numerous examples of dust storms and the impacts of some events were severe. For example, on December 4 1859, most people were kept in doors by dust clouds (The McIvor News and Goulburn Advertiser, 9 December 1859). Other examples are as follows.

On 10 January a “... most terrific dust storm accompanied by a fiercely hot wind swept over Heathcote ... (and) continued for about three hours, making life itself almost intolerable. It is to be feared that much damage has been done in many parts of the colony where it was felt” (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 12 January 1882).

A mud storm occurred at Heathcote, the locality and other parts of the colony on 1 May. In some parts the mud lay “... quite thick in the spouting and in the locality of houses, and the water in tanks (was) highly tinted with it” (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 2 May 1884).

On 7 March, “... a cold south wind set in and has since been blowing, raising clouds of dust, to the discomfort of all” (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 9 March 1893).

On 15 May, “... a most terrific dust storm arose, and the particles were so minute that they penetrated into almost every nook and cranny...” (The McIvor Times and Rodney Advertiser, 20 May 1897).
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