1900 July 3rd: rare meteorology - reports of snow Flinders Ranges before NSW historic July 5th snowfalls and floods.

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Rating on SA-wide 'snow distribution and amount' scale (min 1 to max 10) : 2

On and about the 5th July 1900 there was an unprecedented snowstorm east of the eastern border of South Australia, centred on New South Wales. This combined with floods to wreak a considerable amount of havoc and destruction and widespread damage.

Laurier William's Australian Weather News website says: "The snowstorm of 5 July 1900 was arguably the worst snowstorm to occur in recorded history away from the Alps."

Here are two headlines in South Australian newspapers of the time (source Trove):
"FLOODS IN NEW SOUTH WALES. TAKING PEOPLE FROM HOUSETOPS AND TREES. NARROW ESCAPE OF RESCUE PARTY. SENSATIONAL EXPERIENCES. BATHURST BURIED IN SNOW. Sydney, July 5."
"SNOW AND FLOODS. EASTERN NEW SOUTH WALES SUBMERGED. UNPRECEDENTED FALL OF SNOW. A TRAIN SNOWED UP FOR TWENTY- FOUR HOURS. SENSATIONAL ADVENTURES. A TOWN ALMOST SUBMERGED. SYDNEY, July 7."

The meteorological causes of the snowfall were clearly very unusual, and it was not primarily due to a surge northwards of a deep and frigid surface-to-cloudtop airmass from the far Southern Ocean. Australian Weather News says: "Its likely causes were examined by Doug Shepherd in a Meteorological Note Extraordinary Snowstorm of 5 July 1900 (PDF, 0.5mb), reproduced by kind permission of the Bureau of Meteorology" here http://www.australianweathernews.com/snow/Shepherd_Snowstorm_5_July_1900.pdf

I undertook a search on Trove for any reports of snow falling in South Australia either during or preceding this snowfall in the eastern states. As you might imagine the search was made more difficult than the usual searches due to the many reports of snow in the eastern states appearing in the search results. I was very surprised by what I found.

Firstly, I could only locate two reports of snow falling in South Australia. Secondly, they both reported eyewitness accounts of snow falling in the northern Flinders Ranges!

Below are the two reports after correcting on the Trove website their machine-scanned digitised texts.

Port Augusta Dispatch, Newcastle and Flinders Chronicle (SA : 1885 - 1916), Friday 6 July 1900, page 2.
http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/197611464

{I've quoted below only the snow-relevant text from a longer article. Angepena is a pastoral lease situated in the northern Flinders Ranges about 40 kilometres south-east of Leigh Creek.}

SNOW ONCE MORE IN THE NORTH.— A correspondent, writing from Angipena Station, on July 3rd says :—We had the unique experience here at midday of a snow storm, which lasted for fully half an hour. It was a beautiful sight as it fell thickly covering the ground and surroundings with snow. At the time I was driving a flock of sheep and they had the appearance of being covered with down instead of wool. An aged shepherd, who hails from the old country, told me that the fall was equal to an average snow storm in England while it lasted. Two natives with me were simply astounded ; they stated that they had never seen anything similar in their time. It was a picture worthy to be remembered and, being my first experience of actual snow. As a gauge of how thickly it fell I could not see the ranges a mile distant from where I was at the time. Undoubtedly our climate of late years has been undergoing great changes, our summers are cooler than some years ago our winters are bitterly cold. No doubt you will hear from other correspondents some account of this phenomenal fall of snow which is something unique to South Australians, therefore thought I would advise you of the occurrence here. The natives are astonished and want to know how I can account for such a peculiar "shower of rain."—[We are pleased to hear from this correspondent, and he bears out our assumption that the climate is altering for the better, and better times may hopefully be looked forward to in the North for the years to come."

Article identifier http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197611464

Page identifier http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page22369412

APA citation No Title (1900, July 6). The Port Augusta Dispatch, Newcastle and Flinders Chronicle (SA : 1885 - 1916), p. 2. Retrieved November 2, 2016, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197611464

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South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), Thursday 5 July 1900, page 3
http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/54450552

SNOW IN THE FAR NORTH.
LEIGH'S CREEK, July 4.
Mr. W. James, mail contractor, arrived this morning from his usual weekly trip. He reports having driven through a fall of snow yesterday afternoon. The snow fell for fully twenty minutes, and was principally in the vicinity of Mount Serle and Mount McKinley. The day was bitterly cold. Good rains are still reported.

Article identifier
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54450552
Page identifier
http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page4101575
APA citation
SNOW IN THE FAR NORTH. (1900, July 5). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), p. 3. Retrieved November 2, 2016, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54450552

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Australia's chief Meteorologist in 1900 was Charles Todd, who was based in Adelaide. On the website http://charlestodd.net  it says: "Todd was the first person to arrive on the continent of Australia charged with the responsibility of Metorological Observer. At Federation, he had served for an unmatched 50 years and was the senior meteorologist in our new country."

Below is the weather report and forecasts by Charles Todd issued at 130pm Tuesday 3rd. Of particular relevance to South Australia is: "Forecast of probable weather from Tuesday afternoon till Wednesday night. Issued at 1.30 p.m. on Tuesday. South Australia. — Generally unsettled, with rain extending well inland. Northerly winds, tending westerly. Smooth sea." At about the same time this forecast was being issued, one of the above-quoted newspaper articles tells us: "A correspondent, writing from Angipena Station, on July 3rd says :—We had the unique experience here at midday of a snow storm, which lasted for fully half an hour. It was a beautiful sight as it fell thickly covering the ground and surroundings with snow."

South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), Wednesday 4 July 1900, page 4
http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/54451942

WEATHER REPORTS AND FORECASTS.
Forecast of probable weather from Tuesday afternoon till Wednesday night. Issued at 1.30 p.m. on Tuesday. South Australia. — Generally unsettled, with rain extending well inland. Northerly winds, tending westerly. Smooth sea. Victoria (supplied by Mr. P. Baracchi). — At first generally fine; but cloudy weather with rain setting in shortly over the north-west and west districts. Light north-east winds. Slight sea. New South Wales (supplied by Mr. H. C. Russell).— Copious general rains during the next few days, light winds. Temperature milder. Western Australia (supplied by Mr. W. E. Cooke). — Mostly fine, though cloudy in coastal districts from Geraldton southwards. Unsettled weather setting in on south-west coast shortly. Elsewhere fine and fresh, and frosty inland at night. A remarkably sudden and marked development of unsettled conditions is shown by this morning's reports. Under the combined influences of a mon-soon depression, which has formed over Queensland. and the moderate depression noted yesterday south of the Bight, the weather has become unsettled with rain over the whole of the Northern Territory, west and south Queensland. New South Wales, and the whole of our Northern Areas to the Great Bight. Moderate to heavy rains have fallen over a large part of the interior of Australia, especially in the dry western areas of Queensland, and more threatens. In South Australia not much has fallen up to 9 a.m., except over the head of the Bight. but conditions are favourable for rain, as the weather map shows a shallow valley of low barometers lying between two high areas, one over western, and the other over south-eastern Australia — a condition of things always favourable for more or less rains. CHARLES TODD. Government Astronomer.

Article identifier http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54451942

Page identifier http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page4101230

APA citation WEATHER REPORTS AND FORECASTS. (1900, July 4). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900), p. 4. Retrieved November 2, 2016, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article54451942

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Here is detail of the weather map issued by Charles Todd (or his associates) "9am Tuesday 3 July 1900".

 

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The links to the relevant Charles Todd weather folios for the period are:
Monday 2nd http://www.charlestodd.net/Todd_Folios/web/19000702.html

Tuesday 3rd http://www.charlestodd.net/Todd_Folios/web/19000703.html

Wednesday 4th http://www.charlestodd.net/Todd_Folios/web/19000704.html

Thursday 5th http://www.charlestodd.net/Todd_Folios/web/19000705.html

Friday 6th http://www.charlestodd.net/Todd_Folios/web/19000706.html

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In August 1900 Charles Todd wrote a report (probably a regular monthly report) summarising July 1900's weather which was published in two or more South Australian newspapers. The most readable and easily corrected copy I found on Trove was in the Evening Journal. Below is the text in the summary relevant to to the July 5th snowstorm and floods, and some of the weather in Australia that preceded it, which included unseasonally heavy rains in the Northern Territory and Queensland.

Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912) Fri 10 Aug 1900 Page 2
http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/199964829

I've quoted here the text relevant to the July 5th snowstorm and floods and the weather in Australia that preceded it.

JULY WEATHER

NOTES BY SIR CHARLES TODD.

During the month of July rain very seldom falls in the Northern Territory, the average fall there, derived from 20 to 30 years' records, being only a few points. It is very extraordinary, therefore, to have recorded, as we have this July, heavy rains all the way from Port Darwin to Barrow Creek, between 2 and 2½ in. failing at Port Darwin, Brock's Creek, Powell's Creek, and Tennant's Creek; 1.35 at Barrow's Creek, and from 56 to 88 points at other places. The Overseer of the telegraph line party, at the middle Tomkinson Creek, south of Powell's Creek, reports on the 3rd:—"Raining here since 1st; creek overflowing its banks 200 yards. Line party camp washed out. Country all under water; estimated about 6 in. rain had fallen." These heavy rains came with a monsoonal disturbance shown on our maps to the west of Port Darwin on the 1st, which, during the next few days, passed across the Territory, through Queensland to New South Wales, where, on the 4th, it joined forces with a slight south coast disturbance (which came up from the south of the Bight and crossed over South Australia), and developed into a severe storm system. The drought areas of Queensland were benefited, the reports showing that rain fell over almost the whole of western Queensland, being particularly heavy in the north-west, extending from Borroloola to south of Camooweal, 4 in. being registered at Yelverseraft, and many places in the west had upwards of an inch. Tangorin and Richmond Downs and Hughendon over 2 in. In New South Wales the weather was very severe, especially in the east and south, where torrents of rain fell with phenomenally heavy and extensive snowstorms, and violent gales and tremendous floods occurred. Some idea of their extent may be imagined from the fact that the Hawkesbury River rose 30 ft. above high-water mark, townships were flooded out, and the people had to take refuge in trees to save their lives, and in all directions telegraph lines and railway communication were interrupted. Some heavy rains also fell in the north-east parts of Victoria, but only light showers in the south parts and throughout South Australia. A moderate south coast disturbance passed rapidly south of us on the 8th. with a fair and general rainfall here, and was followed by a spell of high barometers, which lasted to the 21st. {end of quote}

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The meteorological conditions prevailing at the time make this snowfall one of the most unusual I've encountered so far in the recorded history of South Australia. I know of only about three other events where snow fell in meteorological conditions so far removed from the typical deep ground to cloudtop airmass coming from deep in the Southern Ocean.

Doug Shepherd in his Meteorological Note Extraordinary Snowstorm of 5 July 1900 here Meteorological Note Extraordinary Snowstorm of 5 July 1900 concludes (referring to New South Wales): "The extraordinary snowstorm on 5 July 1900 resulted from a complex synoptic situation, but two factors stand out. Firstly, there was a strong lifting mechanism that produced heavy precipitation. A large part of this lifting was generated by the developing low and its associated upper circulation. Since the low was located to the south of the Central Districts, upslope winds would have produced a topographic lifting, enhancing the total lifting process. Secondly, it seems that a 'cold pool' with extremely low temperatures must have been advected over the region. The timely arrival of the cold air caused the heavy precipitation to fall in the form of snow."

The two very credible reports of falling snow in the northern Flinders Ranges on July 3rd I've documented above suggest that a very cold pool of air in the middle levels may have been over the northern Flinders Ranges on 3rd perhaps with a developing upper low.

End of report.

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