April 30, 2013

The last hurrah

Cyclone Zane developing, courtesy of BOM
Today is the last day, officially, of the tropical cyclone season. Not that the date makes the slightest difference to Zane (great name), which developed this morning from a tropical low into a category 1 tropical cyclone (TC1) some 600 kilometres off Cooktown on the east coast of the Pointy Bit of Far North Queensland. It has since been reclassified as a category 2, and is expected to lash the coast late tomorrow night or Thursday morning, including one of my favourite places, beautiful Cape Tribulation. Heavy rain and gusting winds are expected as far south as Cardwell.

We can't be surprised, especially following The Angry Summer (see April 2013), that extreme weather events fail to follow convention. Zane will be the first tropical cyclone to cross the coast in May for 43 years. Perversely, parts of Cape York have missed out on monsoonal rains this season, and graziers are hoping Zane might come up with the goods. Otherwise it's going to be a long dry winter. Last November, when we birdwatched on the Daintree, our guide told us the region had just had the coldest, driest and longest winter he could remember in decades. What is 'normal' any more?

Changing weather patterns produce unexpected side-effects. In the UK at the moment, hay fever sufferers are bracing themselves for a bumper pollen season. The interminable cold winter at last seems to be over, which means the imminent pollen burst will be condensed into a shorter time frame and also intensified by the double whammy of the tree pollen and grass pollen seasons overlapping.

Subtle changes have been occurring to the life cycles of plants and animals for years as a result of changes to the climate – and mismanagement of the land and a failure to conserve. Minute adaptations by one species can have a catastrophic impact on another species side by side it if the two don't adapt in the same way or at the same rate and are interdependent in some way. If you doubt it, read The Weather Makers and After the Future: Australia's New Extinction Crisis, both by Tim Flannery. Read them anyway. You'll learn a lot and he might just change your mindset.

Postscript 2 May: Zane did not live up to expectations. Although Our Jen (Jenny Woodward, the ABC's weather lady) was talking possible category 3 on Tuesday evening, the storm had weakened to a tropical low pressure system by Wednesday night. The Bureau of Meteorology cancelled its cyclone warning at 3am this morning, although 'gusty thunderstorms' were still expected over Cape York. What was left of Zane finally crossed the coast at Cape Grenville, pretty near the top of the Pointy Bit, at 10am: basically, it had been torn apart by a high-level trough. BOM's Rick Threlfall described it as 'a bit of a fizzer out over the sea'. That's the trouble with cyclones – oh so unpredictable.

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