Snow in Western Australia
Occasionally snow falls and perhaps briefly settles on the ground at low levels (from 100m to 350m altitude) in inland south-western Australia. Snow in the goldfields region (around 400m altitude) further to the northeast has also occurred but is more rare. Snow near the coast or near sea level is extremely rare.
A recent example occurred on August 22nd 2003 when 3cm of snow fell in Ongerup, 60km north of the Stirlings and only 286m above sea level. It also fell on surrounding areas including the towns of Gnowangerup and Jerramungup, but nowhere else in WA apart from the Stirling Range. Details of this event can be found at the Australian Weather News website.
The exceptional winter and spring of 1992 also brought snow (in four separate events) to Borden, Broomhill, Katanning, Wagin, Cranbrook, Mt Barker, Kojonup, Arthur River, Rocky Gully, Manjimup, Greenbushes, Boyup Brook and Darkan. Notably, the last of these snow events occurred in November, less than a fortnight before the official start of summer.
The most widespread snowfalls yet experienced in WA occurred one morning in 1956. Snow was observed in some Perth Hills suburbs, as far north as Wongan Hills, as far east as Salmon Gums, and a large number of other locations throughout the south west. Details of these and other WA snowfalls can be found in the historical data section.
The map below shows locations in Western Australia where snow has been reported (click on it to see a larger version, 337kb). Locations are marked by red squares, their size varying according to the number of times snow has been reported there (either 1, 2-3, 4-5 or 6+ times). Reported snowfalls vary from snowflakes melting upon touching the ground, through to snow settling and covering the ground - the map does not distinguish between type of snowfall (see the Historical Data pages for more details). Also be aware that snow has almost certainly fallen in places and at times not captured in the historical records.
In other words, use this map only as a general indication of where snow has occurred, not a definitive record.
Low level snowfalls in WA share the following characteristics:
- They are light, rarely reaching more than a few centimetres in depth. Many reports refer to snowflakes falling but melting upon touching the ground.
- They are short-lived - even if snow settles on the ground it melts soon after, most commonly within half an hour.
- They are very rare - in most years, low-level snowfalls do not occur at all. Any given area that receives one may not receive another for decades, or longer. For example, the 2003 Ongerup fall was the first significant low level snow in WA since 1992, and the first in Ongerup for 50 years.
- They are often localised to small areas - it may snow in one town but not its neighbour. The 2003 Ongerup snowfall affected only that area, and not higher places further away.
- They are virtually impossible to predict. Even in the unlikely event of favourable conditions, the localised nature of low level snowfalls makes it hard to guess which areas may get some and which will miss out.
Experiencing low-level WA snow isn’t something that can be planned or expected, so for anyone seeking snow in WA the only place where there is a realistic chance of finding any in a normal year is on the Stirling Ranges.
How Much Falls
The heaviest falls reported to have settled at low levels occurred on the morning of June 26, 1956. Up to 15-20cm covered paddocks near Borden, north of the Stirling Range. Some other Great Southern and Southwest district locations from Toolbrunup to Boyup Brook accumulated up to 7.5cm. Gnowangerup received 6.3cm, while 5cm was reported near Collie and Kojonup. None of these snow depths persisted very long.
Outside of that exceptional 1956 snow event, the most significant depth was 7.5cm at Greenbushes in 1900. Otherwise, falls are generally less than 2.5cm; any snow that settles and briefly covers the ground is a rare event.
How Long It Lasts
At low levels, the most durable snowfall occurred in the town of Greenbushes in 1900 when snow covered the ground for four hours. However, at low levels, snow rarely lasts more than half an hour before melting. This is due to temperatures at ground level seldom being low enough to sustain snow for long; even on the coldest of cold days, maximum temperatures rarely fail to reach 8°C in inland towns. Also, snowfalls are inevitably followed by rain, which quickly washes away what little cover there may have been. Many reports of snowfalls involve snow falling but melting upon contact with the ground.