Visualising climate change

Recently I was invited to talk to the computer science students at John Monash Science School by their wonderful teacher and all round superstar, Dr Linda McIver. The students had been working on different ways to show climate change data, Linda told me. Could we talk about that?

A chance to look at visualisations of climate data? How exciting! In five minutes I had a page full of examples to think of to share with the students. The presentation pretty much made itself.Read More »

How’s about that weather then? 26 and 28 March 1844

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.

Morning Chronicle, 27 March 1844.

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.

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 10 March 1836.

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.

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 10 March 1836. 

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.

Australia’s meteorological anniversary

Today is the anniversary of the First Fleet’s arrival in Sydney Cove, only 228 years ago. A defining moment, certainly, although more and more people agree that the 26th of January is not the right day to honour all things Australian.

The Founding of Australia, 1788. Oil sketch by Algernon Talmdge (1837). Image: State Library of New South Wales.

To commemorate the date, let’s have a look at Australia’s earliest weather observations. Their history, funnily enough, began at exactly the same time…Read More »

Teleco-what now?

This post contains a lot of links to scientific articles that may be paywalled, or just as bad, really technical. Just let me know if you need a copy of any of them, or if they don’t make sense.

Ah, teleconnection. What a word. Much like ‘madrugada‘ does not have a translation into English, or ’serendipity‘ does not have a Spanish equivalent, teleconnection is a term that is hard to translate into normal words without it losing some of its beauty.

But let me have a try. Essentially, teleconnections are the connections between weather and climate in one place, and weather and climate in another. No, that’s not it. A teleconnection is the remote influence of large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns. No that’s worse. It’s the effect that the climate in one place can have somewhere else. It’s teleconnection.Read More »

Extending the temperature record of southeastern Australia

This is a guest post that I was kindly invited to write for Climanrecon is currently looking at the non-climatic features of the Bureau of Meteorology’s raw historical temperature observations, which are freely available online. As Neville Nicholls recently discussed in The Conversation, the more the merrier!

Southeastern Australia is the most highly populated and agriculturally rich area in Australia. It’s home to our tallest trees, our highest mountains, our oldest pubs and most importantly, our longest series of instrumental weather observations. This makes southeastern Australia the most likely place to extend Australia’s instrumental climate record.Read More »

28 June 1836: Snowfall in Sydney

My PhD was on the past climate of southeastern Australia. This involved looking at lots of different sources of old weather data from the 1800s. Newspapers, government records and farmer’s diaries: each source an important clue to the history of Australia’s climate.

While my work focussed mainly on quantitative data (numbers) rather than qualitative descriptions of what happened (words), using both sources of information can improve our understanding of the weather of the past. Plus, much like music and lyrics (great film), they tell a much better story together.

I want to share some of the more exciting events in the archives of Australia’s weather. Everyone loves talking about the weather, and extreme events, woah! Can we talk about anything else? So let’s start with an easy one. A classic. Sunday 28 June, 1836: snowfall in old Sydney town.Read More »