People love talking about the weather. Whether it’s on Twitter in 2017, or in letters to the Editor in 1841, we are never short of a meteorological-based conversation starter, particularly in Australia.
The aim of these posts is to share some of the events that piqued people’s interest back in the day. Not always the hottest, driest, coldest or wettest day, but some days that got people whinging.
During this week in 1844, Sydney experienced a swing of temperatures which was echoed across the colony of New South Wales.
The Morning Chronicle reported a 6am temperature of 43ºF (6.1ºC) on the morning of 26 March 1844. This was the coldest March morning in the 10 years of published observations in the paper, although there is no information about where the thermometer was kept, so the data may not be that accurate.
Chilly mornings and premature frosts were also reported in the Hunter Valley, where correspondents claimed that the nights were “unusually cold for the season of the year”.
Two day later, on Thursday 28 March 1844, hot north winds with associated dust came upon Sydney in a late summer blast. George Peacock, the trained observer at South Head, on Sydney’s coast, wrote:
“At about two o’clock am came on to blow very hard from north and north-westward, and subsequently, during the morning, moderated: atmosphere bright and clear. Just at noon a violent squall of hot wind came over from north-west by north, carrying along with it clouds of dust—and continued a hot and very strong wind till near sunset — veering towards west-north-west; atmosphere being very thick and hazy, but cloudless.”
The highest temperature Peacock recorded that day was 87 ºF (30 ºC) at 2:30 p.m., up from 74ºF (23.3 ºC) at 8:30 that morning. The Chronicle reported a noon temperature of 80ºF, but interestingly a southeasterly wind, again suggesting that the observations weren’t done under the most rigorous conditions (read: maybe the paperboy took them??)
Regional correspondents also reported the hot blustery day. In Goulburn, southern NSW, the wind on the 29th was “unusually violent. Indeed the most disagreeable day we have had for a long season. Rain is much wanted to put the land in condition for the plough”. James Waugh at Jamberoo, also in southern New South Wales, recorded a maximum temperature of 90 ºF (32.2 ºC) in his diary (available at the State Library of New South Wales), with hot and windy weather.
The Hunter Valley felt the effects of the hot northerly too. On the 2nd of April, a Morpeth resident “of upwards of forty years” wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald of their fears that their sunflowers would “be apt to blights from the hot winds – that have been the case (in a great measure) this season”.
On the 6th, the word from Muswellbrook in the upper Hunter was that “The weather has recently been very sultry, and the late corn has suffered severely from hot winds”.
Hot winds like those experienced on 28 March are a common feature of Sydney’s climate. HC Russell, NSW’s Government Astronomer from 1870–1903, was interested in Sydney’s hot winds, dedicating several pages to the subject in his extensive 1877 summary of the climate of NSW. He wrote:
“Of all the features of the climate of Australia the hot wind is in many respects one of the most remarkable and interesting, as it is the key which opens the explanation of the whole of our wind system….In character this wind is the most disagreeable known in Australia.”
While the term wasn’t used at the time, the 28th of March sounds like a classic “brickfielder”, a strong dusty wind that blows during the summer months.
The term “brickfielder” was bandied about in the mid to late 1800s across southern Australia. According to this neat article, a brickfielder in the southern states was a hot dusty northerly, while in New South Wales it originally referred to a cool southerly wind which blew red dust from the brickworks into Sydney town.
It might be that in Sydney, a “brickfielder” was any old wind that brought dust with it. On 10 March 1836 for example, The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser reported that a brickfielder had occurred “Tuesday last”.
The weather observations for that Tuesday last show a strong north north west wind, with high temperatures too.
In 2010, the Australian Meteorological and Oceanography Society ran a competition to give Melbourne’s dusty winds their own name, with the winner being the “Northerly Duster”. Is it yet to catch on.