Low level snowfalls, though rare, have recurred throughout
the 20th century, and affected a surprisingly large area of the country.
Some of the more memorable events follow.
On 5 July 1900, extremely heavy snow fell over central NSW,
and elevations as low as 800 metres received nearly a metre of snow.
In Bathurst roof-tops, verandahs and lightly constructed buildings collapsed
under the weight. Railway traffic out of Bathurst was paralysed, with
passengers stranded in their carriages. Snow fell heavily to low elevations:
at Forbes (240 metres elevation) 23 centimetres of snow covered the ground.
In a similar cold outbreak on 2-4 August 1943, snow
fell over the eastern Riverina as far west as Lockhart. Tasmania's
Lyell and Lake Highways were closed for days, disrupting campaigning
for a federal election. Heavy falls blanketed hilly parts of Victoria,
and extended into northern NSW.
In winter 1951 snow blanketed most of Tasmania twice
within three weeks (19-20 July and 9 August), blocking roads and interrupting
mail services. On 9 August snow had to be shovelled from the streets
of Queenstown (191 metres elevation). Light snow also fell in the streets
and suburbs of Melbourne, and in Adelaide as well during the July event.
On 23 June 1981, large areas of western and northwestern
Victoria were mantled in white. So much snow fell at lower levels of
the Dividing Range that electricity transmission lines broke under the
weight. In South Australia snow fell as far north as Wilpena and Blinman.
Three years later (3 July 1984) snow extended from coastal western Victoria
north along the Dividing Range to Stanthorpe and Toowoomba in Queensland.
Sub-zero temperatures persisted at Armidale (northern NSW) for 36 hours.
Another two years later (early 25 July 1986) many Tasmanian
locations had their heaviest snow on record. Most principal roads in
Hobart were closed, effectively isolating the city until almost noon.
Schools were shut for the day, and mail deliveries suspended. On the
same day, snow fell in Melbourne and many suburbs, causing air traffic delays
of up to four hours. Melting snow was observed in metropolitan Sydney,
and further north at Gosford.
A snow-bound Hobart and Mt Wellington, following the heavy snowfall
of 25 July 1986. Snow in the Hobart area was 8cm deep at 9am. (Photo courtesy of The Mercury).
In southwestern Australia, there have been several
occasions when wheatbelt towns have received a ground covering of snow.
26 June 1956 was particularly noteworthy, with low level snowfalls extending
well north of Perth. Perhaps even more outstanding - because of the
timing - were the snowfalls of 19 November 1992: virtually on the eve
of summer, strong southerlies brought snow to many southern wheatbelt areas.
Finally, the not-widely-known event of 21 October 1995
was particularly impressive for the extent of its northward penetration
across central Australia, and its occurrence in late spring. Snow fell
to 200 metres above sea level over South Australia's Flinders Ranges,
and Broken Hill registered a maximum of just 5°C, its lowest recorded
maximum in any month. This cold snap resulted in record low temperatures
as far north as Wave Hill (in the Northern Territory).
In most cases the low level snow had gone within a
day, with little economic dislocation. However, in some cases heavy
losses occurred among recently shorn sheep and newly born lambs.