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Australian Weather Hazards - Know The Best Time To Travel

Australian thunderstorm off the coastAustralian weather conditions aren't always nice and can be dangerous at times. The main weather hazards you need to know about if you plan to visit Australia are severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, tropical cyclones, floods, and bushfires.

Thankfully, these severe weather events are generally confined to a particular location and normally occur around same time each year. That's great for you since you can match your arrival so as to avoid these severe weather events. However, that's not always possible since some of these severe Australian weather events may overlap so you'll have to weigh up if you want to risk travelling to that location.

I've written a lot of information below on each of these Australian weather hazards, so I hope that this helps to answer some of your questions relating to these severe Australian weather conditions.

Tropical Cyclones

A tropical cyclone is a rotating intense low pressure system that forms over warm tropical oceans worldwide. The term tropical cyclone is known by other names in different countries. In Asian waters they are known as typhoons but around America, tropical cyclones are called hurricanes.

Tropical cyclones can only form when the ocean temperature is above 26°C (79°F). In addition, a tropical cyclone can't normally form and travel near the equator.

Most tropical cyclones last between 7-10 days and can cause mass devastation to a populated area as a result of the flooding and gale force winds.

That's now becoming of concern in Australia since larger numbers of people are moving into the cyclone-prone regions and building in areas that have previously been hit by cyclones.

Whatever you do please don't underestimate the ferocity of the cyclonic Australian weather systems as they can easily ruin your holiday.

When does the tropical season start and finish?

The official tropical cyclone season in Australia occurs from November-April. The majority of tropical cyclones form after December since the ocean temperatures have risen sufficiently to aid their formation. Remember I mentioned earlier that tropical cyclones need sea surface temperatures above 26°C in order to develop.

Once they've formed they normally move slowly towards the southwest. However, they can in wander in any direction depending on the which way the wind blows at high altitude.

On average, the Queensland coast gets hit by 4-5 tropical cyclones during the cyclone season whereas the Northern Territory is only threatened twice a year.

The Western Australia coastline between Broome and Exmouth is the most likely region in all of northern Australia to be hit by a severe tropical cyclone. Winds in excess of 240km/hr (150 mile/hr) are quite common.

In the last few years, there have been only a small number of cyclones affecting the northern coastline of Australia but they are becoming more severe.

Last year (2007), Western Australia was the only state that was affected by tropical cyclones. The year before that in 2006, four tropical cyclones formed and two again hit Western Australia and the other two formed off the coast of Queensland. One of these decided to take a trip across the top end of Australia before it weakened along the coast of the Northern Territory.

Tropical cyclones are a dominant feature of northern Australian weather. Farmers in inland regions of northern Australia rely on the extensive rain produced by a tropical cyclone since it amounts to between 30-50% of the total annual rainfall.

Whatever you do, just beware of the fact that many inland parts of northern Australia are also likely to be also impacted by a cyclone. The main damage occurs in the form of flash flooding and this quickly isolates a small town in a day. This has happened many times. When this occurs most of the locals become stranded on an island so to speak.

If the flood waters are particularly high, it may be a couple of weeks before the flood waters fall and people are actually able to get out of the town. You don't want to be trapped in a small town while you're holidaying in Australia!

When the cyclone approaches the coast, the sea-level automatically begins to rise in response to the lower atmospheric pressure. If you're staying on the coast, I would advise that you evacuate the area since it's likely that the coastline will be under water since the ocean now begins to claim that area.

If you're visiting northern Australia and are told that a tropical cyclone warning has been issued, then you clearly have to take preventative steps to protect yourself and your family.

The Bureau of Meteorology provides critical updates about tropical cyclones as well as other severe weather events that are currently affecting Australia.

Large bushfires occur due hot Australian weather conditions

Larger southern Australian bushfireBushfires are even more unpredictable than tropical cyclones since there's always a fire burning out of control somewhere in Australia.

I'm not trying to cause you alarm but you can be sure that you and your family won't be hurt if you understand the points given below:

  • Bushfires tend a follow seasonal Australian weather patterns.

  • The northern Australia bushfire season runs from May-October but has been known to extend into January. So that means that the only months that are free of any fires in far northern Australia occur from February to March.

  • As you travel south in Australia, the bushfire season starts closer to the beginning of summer (December) and ends normally in May. The only time fires aren't affecting southern Australia is during the winter (June-September).

  • The central parts of Australia begin their fire season in August-September and this lasts about seven months.

  • The worst bushfires in Australia occur in the mountainous areas of southern Australia. These areas include south eastern South Australia, Victoria and southern New South Wales. In fact, south eastern Australia is known to be one of the most bushfire-prone regions in the world.

  • There's been no big bushfires in southern Australia from December 2007 to March 2008. The main reason for this is that there were huge bushfires late 2006/early 2007 and these fires burnt all the vegetation so any new fire couldn't spread.

  • The bushfires that occur outside of southern Australia aren't normally as severe thankfully. As a bonus, you'll get plenty of warning of a bushfire in your area since the media here is very quick to alert the public to this fact.

Bushfire safety procedures for your family

Small bushfire in southern Australia

If you're in a remote location make sure that you've told someone of your whereabouts so they can find you.

It is critical that if you are travelling into the forests of southern Australia during the summer months then make sure that you have access to a number of roads to get out of the area if a fire does approach your location.

Don't wait until the smoke becomes thick or it may be too late.

Here's some good pointers for you to know:
  • If the main fire front (that is, the leading edge of the fire) is travelling towards you then it's highly likely that thick smoke will engulf your location so get out while you can.

  • If you're in trouble call 000, which is Australia's emergency hotline.
  • Another point worth mentioning is that fires always travel very quickly up a hill and much more slowly down the other side. Furthermore, if you become trapped make sure that you travel to low-lying areas as these regions tend to be skipped by the main fire front.

  • Also, if you are in a low-lying area, the fire tends not to be as hot as the fires that occur higher in elevation but I still certainly wouldn't trying to test this by sticking around to feel the difference:)

  • At night, since the air cools most quickly near the surface, smoke tends to accumulate in low lying areas and this will lead to greatly reduced visibility. So please don't wander away from your car during this time.

  • If you suffer from respiratory illnesses like asthma make sure that you take your asthma medication where ever you go and try and stay away from the smoke as the tiny smoke particles are easily transferred from your mouth and nasal passages and inhaled. When you're stuck near a bushfire this is next to impossible.

  • Unfortunately some of these smoke particles are small enough to become lodged in your lungs and may cause considerable respiratory distress. So please beware of the serious health consequences of just being in the smoke.

Most of these bushfires occur more frequently when the Australian weather has been hot and dry and the rainfall has been low over an extended period of time. Consequently, the vegetation is most vulnerable after long spells of dry weather as the leaves and the woody undergrowth become devoid of moisture and this can feed a fire when it does occur.

Also, if the region has had previous light rain and this has produced abundant short-lived quick growing vegetation then this will tend to provide more fuel for the fire especially if the area has dried out rapidly since the rain event.

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Beware of severe Australian weather - thunderstorms, hail and tornadoes

  • Severe thunderstorms are quite common and are an important component of Australian weather since they provide useful rainfall. Unfortunately they cause considerably damage in the process. These severe thunderstorms occur quite frequently during spring (September-November) and the summer-early autumn (December-March).

  • If you are hoping to visit Tasmania, you'll be happy to know that this region has the least number of thunderstorms in Australia(< 10 thunder days per year). Whereas, the city of Darwin in the Northern Territory has the most (around 80 thunder days per year).

  • As you travel from the southern parts of Australia towards the tropics, there's an obvious increase in the number of thunderstorms.

  • During the summer, Australian weather conditions are perfect for the formation of thunderstorms. The most common time for thunderstorm activity occurs around 4pm local time.

  • Another important point is that severe thunderstorms move very quickly and may only last 15 minutes. But the damage caused during that short time period can be immense if the storm was accompanied by strong winds, hail and even tornadoes!

  • A common forecasting tool for severe Australian weather such as hail is to look to see if the cloud approaching has got a greenish tinge to it. If it does, then make sure you cover your car and don't go decide to go wandering outside.

  • However, the most violent thunderstorms form in eastern New South Wales and southeastern Queensland.

  • Sydney is known to have particularly bad hailstorms followed closely behind by Brisbane. The hail can be as large as cricket balls but most of the time they are golf ball size.

  • Most of these severe storms come in from the southwest and move quite fast towards the northeast and then travel out to sea.

  • The worst area in Australia for violent thunderstorms occurs in northeast New South Wales around the town of Grafton and Lismore. Another badly hit area is around Boonah which is around 90 kilometers (56 mile) southwest of Brisbane. The aboriginal name for Boonah means 'land of the thunderstorms'.

  • Despite what the media in Australia says, Australian weather conditions in the summer are conducive to tornadoes. Yes, Australia does get tornadoes. Given that Australia's population is so sparse outside the cities, there's not much talk about them since very few have hit anything important (yet)!

  • Thunderstorms in Perth occur during the winter months (June-August) since that's also when they receive most of their rainfall. They too also get tornadoes but they aren't normally as violent as the one's in eastern Australia.

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