Snow in Western Australia
Snowchasing Near Misses
There's something exhilarating and awe-inspiring about experiencing at close quarters the raw power and beauty of nature in a wild mood. Those who chase thunderstorms and tornadoes - stormchasers - know this well. I enjoy that sort of thing too, but with my preference for cold and bleak weather I love seeking and finding snowstorms. West Australian snowstorms are extra special because they are so rare.
Beginning with some near misses, this and the following pages describe and illustrate some of my attempts to find snow on the Stirling Ranges of Western Australia.
This was my first snowchase. Back then I had only media weather forecasts to guide me, but it looked promising for snow, so I headed south for a long weekend and based myself in Albany. In bleak weather I climbed Toolbrunup Peak in search of the white stuff - I found none, but succeeded in becoming very cold and wet. Upon arriving home in Perth I read in the paper that it had indeed snowed in the Stirling Ranges: a huge 10cm had fallen the day after I was there. I had narrowly missed one of the biggest falls of the last few decades.
Lessons learned: 1. Timing is important: in WA, snow occurs in the cold air that follows a cold front, not during the passage of the front. 2: Toolbrunup Peak can be dangerously slippery in very wet weather, if you're not used to that sort of thing.
August 18th 2005
Another snow opportunity missed. With information from the Weatherzone website I recognised the likelihood of snow falling on Bluff Knoll on this date. However, past experience led me to think it wouldn't be quite cold enough for snow to accumulate on the ground. Also it was during a working week and I felt too tired for an overnight drive, so I let this one pass.
I was mistaken. A relatively heavy 5cm of snow settled on Bluff Knoll, and I was kicking myself for not having been there to see it. This highlighted the frustrations of predicting snow in a place where one degree can make the difference between snow settling, or melting upon impact.
October 27th 2007
A near miss of a different kind. The forecast charts gave clear indications that snow was likely, a good snowfall did occur, and I was available to go and see it. I missed the opportunity because I didn't even think of checking the forecasts.
Three days before it snowed, temperatures had reached over 30 degrees ... at this late stage of spring, snow was the last thing on my mind. In the history of WA only three snowfalls have ever occurred later in the season than this, and after a mild winter I'd written off 2007 as a snow-free year. Lesson learned: rare events do happen, and records can break - expect the unexpected.
June 22nd 2015
In the four days ahead of this date, forecasts and charts alternated back and forth between "not quite cold enough for snow" and "maybe just cold enough". It looked dodgy, but as I was planning to be in the area that week anyway, I took a chance and climbed Bluff Knoll at the optimum time.
A group of others as crazy as me also began the climb in very wet and windy darkness at 4am. The 8 degree temperature in the car park suggested snow was unlikely on the summit at that moment, but we pressed on anyway. I held hopes that the wind would shift more southerly and it would get cooler, as most of the forecasts hinted. Unfortunately I was wrong, as were all of the forecasts.
At the summit the temperature was about 3 degrees, with not a sign of snow. Just persistent gale force winds and heavy rain, without a single break in the cloud. I stayed there for a few hours vainly hoping for change, but succeeded only in getting waterlogged gloves and shoes, and numb hands.
With the abundance of moisture falling out of the sky, it could have been an awesome cover of snow - if only it had been a couple of degrees cooler.
With the difficulties of predicting WA snow successfully, and the challenges of getting to the top of Bluff Knoll at the right time, these near misses will probably not be my last.