One thing living in Queensland taught me was to respect weather conditions, especially during the Wet: by not driving along flooded roads or attempting to cross fast-flowing, swollen creeks; not going out if the Bureau of Meteorology advised that all non-essential travel should be postponed; and not leaving the car out if there's a chance of hail. I had never seen a car pitted with large-hailstone dents until I came to live in Australia.
Having been overtaken by road trains doing 100 km/hr along a motorway in a torrential, obscuring downpour; caught in a storm on a dirt road in the Outback with no alternative* other than to continue for 20-odd kilometres on a surface as treacherous as ice; and taken ten hours to complete what should have been a three-hour journey when ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald collided with an intense low, I do as I'm told and hunker down.
There are huge pitfalls for weathermen and women in Australia. Either you under- or over-estimate the amount of rain on the way, or it falls in a different place, or earlier or later than expected. Large amounts can fall on saturated catchments, increasing the risk of flooding; weather systems are less predictable when rising up and over an escarpment or range; and storms can develop and intensify unexpectedly. Will there be hail – and what size of hailstones, golf or tennis balls? What about wind speeds? Will there be gusts in excess of 150 km/hr, as in a category 2 tropical cyclone – except you can't call it that if it hasn't developed over the ocean.
I must admit to a certain amount of trepidation when the man from BOM called the impending deluge over Melbourne last weekend a '10 out of 10' event, and potentially life-threatening. He warned that half of the city's population would never have seen the like. I've only lived here for a month and therefore have little idea what even an 8 or a 9 would be like, but 10 didn't sound good by anyone's standards. This radar image, taken at 6 am on Saturday looked like a lot of rain, but hardly a 'super storm': there wasn't any serious red.
We postponed plans for Sunday because we didn't want our visitors to be stuck in flood waters or bad traffic. Lots of outdoor events were cancelled on the basis of BOM's dire warnings. Caterers in Glengarry in eastern Victoria were angry they'd been left with hundreds of parmigianas and pies after a big cycling event was called off. Fortunately, locals volunteered to help out.
In the end, Melbourne received about 70 mm rather than 300, but there was flooding in the northeast of the state, where people had to be evacuated. In many places more rainfall fell during the first couple of days of the month than the December average. Mount Wombat received 228 mm. There were still flood warnings today.
Our weather station recorded only 66.4, despite some prolonged heavy bursts during Saturday evening, when the radar showed a huge dollop of rain sitting over Melbourne that seemed to be circulating rather than moving on. By Sunday it was showery rather than constant, and in between were lovely contrasts of light. There was a brisk westerly that brought many out into the largest swells we've seen so far in Port Phillip.
I have great sympathy for weather forecasters who get it in the neck after a weather event doesn't quite go according to plan. Theirs is not an exact science, and therefore necessitates they be over-cautious about the potential of approaching bad weather that may well turn out to be less impactful. And there will always be idiots who go surfing in the hours before a cyclone makes landfall.
* With 200 kilometres between towns, it wasn't an option to stop and sit out the storm, in case we became totally bogged with little chance of help. We didn't know it at the time but the road we were on had been closed. We risked huge opprobrium from locals for churning up their road, but I still believe we had little choice other than to continue.