Brisbane taken by storm
Early this morning it was 20 degrees or so, a wonderful relief after the last few weeks of record-breaking high temps and lethargy-inducing humidity. Thousands of Brisbane residents, however – on the south side of the city in particular – awoke also to damaged roofs, smashed windows, fallen trees, dented cars and no power.
A few weeks ago I was discussing the need for 'hail-proof' shutters for our weather-fronting west windows, and claimed I'd never seen proper hailstones in five years; only piddly little things on the turf during a storm at The Gabba. My time came yesterday afternoon, between 4 and 5.
The storm appeared to be missing us at first, moving west to east but south of my suburb. It suddenly appeared to change direction, more south to north, and what looked a bit like fog or low grey cloud approached rapidly and amorphously. The most noticeable characteristic, however, was a roaring sound. I ventured outside the front door, despite frequent fork lightning and crashing thunder, to try to identify the escalating sound. There was no green sky – said to presage a hail storm – and it dawned on me only slowly what was happening. The first hailstones hit our metal roof with startling ferocity. As others bounced off the windows, they created a flatter sound, tinnier. They found their way in through louvred windows that I hadn't closed in time; they littered the balconies and whitened the road. In the turmoil, I could scarcely distinguish between next door's giant palm fronds beating against our wall in the squalls, the hail or the thunder; between natural sounds and possible impact damage. I was alone with my imagination, and scared out of my wits.
We won't know until the weekend, when my friend can go up and have a look, whether any of the newly installed solar panels, or the roof itself, has taken a hit. He's already noticed that the anemometer on our weather station – something he's wanted for ever but only recently acquired – has been damaged. Water gushed into the house in the usual place, a quirky metal louvred opening that makes for a lovely 'inside-outside' room on glorious winter days in this part of the world but provides a spectacular water feature during summer storms.
We were fortunate, however, compared with other parts of the south side and the CBD. And we only lost internet, not power.
A weather man explained on the ABC that two storms had combined to form a supercell, which happens here but is trickier to predict. Such a joining of forces may quickly result in rising, rotating air whose moisture is cooled rapidly, creating hail and wind gusts that yesterday exceeded 140 km/hr. That is a category 2 cyclone wind speed, by the way.
There have been complaints that there was insufficient warning of such a monster heading for the city; that people didn't have time to evacuate, get off the roads, move stuff to higher floors. In my experience, severe weather warnings are usually timely and informative. I think the Bureau of Meteorology may have been caught out, rather like it was about rainfall amounts heading for Toowoomba in January 2011, but storm formation is not an exact science and BOM does its best.
I'm afraid my picture of hailstones on the front door mat is the best I can do. Despite five years' experience, I still haven't mastered my fear and stress to the extent that I can rush outside with a camera during the terrifying storms that happen here. In any case, in my current house I'm usually too busy mopping up. But I wish yesterday I'd snapped the storm when I first noticed the dramatically darkening sky. Here you can see the photograph that I would probably have died to take.
Today residents are frantically putting in insurance claims (already in excess of $110 million as I write*); the Premier is claiming it was the worst storm in 30 years; and Energex are busy costing their engineers' overtime rosters. There are two factors of Queensland life that continue to baffle us: the first is the flimsy nature of construction, of homes in particular, in a region that is prone to devastating cyclones; and the second is above-ground power lines. But hey, when the Newman government 'leases' the power network, it could reduce the revenue it takes from the arrangement and make the deal conditional upon the placement of all wires underground. Then, if you were caught out by an extreme weather event – and, trust me, they will become more frequent – you'll only have to contend with flying roofs and branches, and baseball-sized hailstones, not writhing live wires.
Post script I am pleased to report that the solar panels are unscathed.
* By 2 December this figure had risen to $304 million
This post was last edited on 2 December 2014