Snow in Western Australia
Details of the Snowfalls of 1956 (June 26)
The snowfalls on June 26th 1956 were the most widespread experienced since European settlement, being reported from twenty official and nine unofficial weather stations, as well as numerous individuals. They ranged from Manjimup and Bridgetown in the south west to Wongan Hills and Cadoux in the north, and east to Ravensthorpe and Salmon Gums. Record or near-record cold was experienced in some places. Snow fell through much of the Darling Range, and was even seen in the Perth hills - one of only three occasions this has been known to happen. Despite the great extent, the snow was short lived, the heaviest falls being confined to the period from 5 to 7:30am and melting quickly. In the more northern and eastern areas the snowflakes melted upon touching the ground.
The summary below gives temperatures and snow depths in degrees Fahrenheit, and inches, respectively. These units of measurement were in use at the time, and are what was reported in the newspapers. Metric equivalents (degrees Celcius, centimetres) are shown in brackets.
GREAT SOUTHERN DISTRICT
Snow covered the ground to depths of 3 inches (7.6cm) at many places in the lower Great Southern district. The heaviest falls were near the Stirling Ranges, where up to 6 to 8 inches (15-20cm) covered paddocks near Borden, north of the ranges. Mr V Meir of Borden used a tractor to tow his family around their snow covered paddocks on a sleigh improvised from a sheet of iron. Snow covered the ground and roofs to provide a scene not witnessed in Borden by residents who had lived there 70 years, however it had all melted by 10am.
A West Australian newspaper staff photographer flew over the Stirling Ranges and reported snow lying thick on the hills, but showing signs of melting quickly. The Daily News reported snow 5 or 6 inches (13-15cm) deep on the ranges. There was still a light covering of snow on the lower foothills in the early afternoon, but by then no snow was visible on the flat ground outside of the ranges.
Children waiting for the school bus built a snowman outside the Porongorup post office. Remnants of the snowman could still be seen early in the afternoon. Some other children, also waiting for a school bus, built a snowman on a property west of Toolbrunup from the 3 inches (7.6cm) of snow on the ground.
The town of Mt Barker received about an inch (2.5cm) of snow, while Mt Barrow and some of the other peaks near Mt Barker were also temporarily covered.
Gnowangerup residents saw their first snow since 1920, when 2.5 inches (6.3cm) fell between 7:30 and 9am. Another 2 inches (5cm) fell between 9am and noon.
Snowballs were thrown at Holly siding in the Katanning district, where the ground was covered with snow one inch (2.5cm) thick as far as the eye could see.
At Tambellup, snow began falling at 7am. An hour later the snow was melted by rain, then at 10am it hailed.
Wagin received its first snowfall for more than 30 years, however the snowflakes melted as soon as they reached the ground. The air temperature at 8:15am was 34 F (1.1C).
Snow fell throughout the Kojonup district between 5 and 7:30 am. Residents woke to find their lawns coated by 0.75 to 1 inch (2-2.5cm) of snow; another report tells of a white blanket 2 inches (5cm) deep. It was the first snow recorded in the area, and the town's children lost no time in building snowmen and having snow fights. The minimum temperature of 32.5 F (0.9C) was a record. Snow also covered the ground at the nearby localities of Jingalup and Boscabel, residents being woken by their children who first noticed the white blanket at 5am.
Snow fell intermittently for more than an hour at Darkan, and was also reported during the morning at Arthur River.
A school bus driver in the Williams district, Mr L Gillett, reported ice half an inch (1.3cm) thick covering the windscreen, and snowflakes "floating like feathers" near the Culbin siding.
Manjimup - a night nurse at the Warren district hospital reported snow falling just after midnight. Other nurses went outside and were able to scrawl their names in the snow covering the ground. A similar fall at the same time was reported from Athol Ipsen at Perup, 12 miles (19km) to the east. A local resident saw snow in Manjimup's main street at 3am. Drivers of logging trucks near Deanmill reported a covering of snow "inches thick".
Boyup Brook received a little snow at 6:45am but it only lasted a few minutes and was followed by heavy rain. Areas to the north and east, however, reported falls lying up to 3 inches (7.6cm) deep on the roads.
LOWER WEST DISTRICT
The Collie district received snow for the first time in the memory of residents of 50 years. Night shift workers at the Collie power house noticed flakes falling but not settling at 5am, and pre-dawn snow also fell in the View St area on the north side of town. Just after dawn, sleet at Ewington was accompanied by fine flakes of snow. Snow fell at the Muja and Ewington open cuts, with a further fall at the latter at 11:30am. The heaviest fall was at Lyall's Mill where it was up to 2 inches (5cm) deep, and the remains of an early fall nearby on a hill on the Mumballup road could still be seen at 9am. Snow was also reported from Worsley and Bowelling.
Ironically, no snow was experienced in Wandering, the coldest town in the Darling Range.
CENTRAL WHEAT BELT
In Wongan Hills, snow began falling at 9:30am. It snowed for 15 minutes but did not settle on the ground. This was the first snow seen in Wongan Hills since the only other fall there 23 years earlier, and is the most northerly snowfall experienced in WA.
Snow fell in the area surrounding Meckering, but not in the town itself. Children from outlying areas brought handfuls of snow to school on the school bus.
PERTH AND HILLS REGION
Mrs M Davey of Carilla saw two falls in her area, one at 8:15am and the heaviest at 9:15. She says "There were flakes as big as bantam eggs. It was a pretty sight to see it falling, but as it touched the ground it melted away. It did not last for long on the trees". A fine mist of snow in Karragullen and Roleystone melted upon reaching the ground. Snowflakes fell with the rain at Mundaring, Bickley and Walliston. Snow was also reported from Bartons Mill, Pickering Brook, Chidlow, and Mt Helena.
Snow fell at Bakers Hill at 7:30am, forming a thin layer on lawns.
Woorooloo experienced snow for the first time, falling for about 20 minutes at the sanitorium. It melted upon touching the ground, but blanketed the trees and remained there for a while.
Bus driver Terry McGrath reported that a blizzard stopped his bus for 5 minutes on the Toodyay Road near Nanamoolan. The snow "plastered itself all over the bus" and was piled "inches deep" on the road.
Perth experienced its lowest maximum temperature ever recorded: 47.8 F (8.8C). This "maximum" occurred at 2:15am, before dropping to a minimum of 39.4 F (4.1C) at 7:10am. During the daytime the temperature reached only 47.0 F (8.3C) at 2:40pm, and was only 40.5 F (4.7C) at noon. This combination of cold southerly winds and 40mm of rain (30 hours to 3pm) made this an exceptionally wintry day for Perth. No snow was reported from the Perth coastal plain, but conditions were not far from allowing snowflakes to reach near the ground.
CENTRAL WEST DISTRICT
New Norcia didn't see any snow, but an area just to the south of it did. Robert Swanell reported driving into a heavy snowstorm when approaching the town along the Great Northern Hwy about 9:15am. Large flakes fell for ten minutes over an area of 6 to 7 miles (9.6 to 11.2km), ending about 2 miles (3.2km) south of New Norcia. Nobody had heard of snow falling in the area before.
Snow was reported falling after 3pm at Salmon Gums, 60 miles (97km) south of Norseman. A white mantle covered buildings, housetops and vehicles, while children made snowballs. Kalgoorlie recorded its third coldest maximum temperature to that time of 50.3 F (10.2C). Snow was reported from Boorabbin, 100 miles (161km) west of Kalgoorlie, but this was seen by an aircraft pilot at an altitude of 2000 feet (610m), not on the ground. The following morning, motorists reported seeing a heavy fall of snow between Higginsville and Pioneer (between Norseman and Kalgoorlie).
The above information is a compilation of reports found in these newspapers:
The West Australian, June 27 1956
Daily News, June 26 & 27 1956
Blackwood Times, June 29 1956
Collie Mail, June 28 1956
The Gnowangerup Star, June 28 1956
Kalgoorlie Miner, June 27 & 28 1956