The "Flip Side"
- Heavy ocean swells
- The "pluvial" period of the 1970s
- Recovery 1915-17
- Wet years in a dry decade
- Western Australia to the rescue
- Dam the Gordon
- Rain and disease
- Fewer frosts
Although Australia's climate can often be harsh and capricious, it does have endearing features, too. It is virtually free of extremes of cold and the accompanying problems of ice and snow, and though extreme heat afflicts some parts, the enervating humidity of some other tropical nations is confined to relatively few parts of Australia. The climate is in most areas suited to outdoor activities for most of the year, and supports a wide range of crops and animals. Australia is renowned for its beaches and warm summer weather, yet also boasts extensive winter ski-fields in the southeast.
Double rainbow at Phillips Ponds, near Woomera, SA. (Photo courtesy of Rob Barclay, Bureau of Meteorology).
Many climate events in the 20th century have alleviated potentially serious situations. Both World Wars happened to coincide with major Australian droughts (the 1913-15 drought with World War I; the 1937-45 drought with World War II). Australias economy was at that time heavily dependent on rural exports, and was therefore badly hit at the very time resources were stretched to support the war efforts. But in both cases a potentially serious economic blow-out was alleviated somewhat by opportune good seasons. Similarly, the effects of the 1982-83 drought would have been far worse but for an exceptionally good season in Western Australia. In addition, frosts have decreased in the second half of the century, with generally beneficial effects for agriculture.
Total wheat production in each Australian State between the 1975-76 seasons. Note the contrast in the 1982-83 season between the Western Australian crop and those of the other States devastated by the 1982 drought. (Data courtesy of The Australian Wheat Board)
In a related way, climate situations often have two "sides", one damaging, the other beneficial or at least intriguing. Excess rains may cause flooding, but can also fill the vast inland basin of Lake Eyre - leading to the strange sight of sea-birds congregating hundreds of kilometres from the sea. Wet seasons have led to disease outbreaks, but have also assisted in the control of Australias endemic rabbit plagues. Finally, there are aspects of our climate that have relatively little impact, but are spectacular when they do occur, as in the enormous ocean swells that can affect coastal areas during otherwise settled weather conditions.