2006 Season - Snow Reports and Chases

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Winter 2006.

May 2006:

22-5-06: On Monday night around 5:30pm, a quite powerful storm hit Blackheath and surrounding upper mountains towns. At first the lightning activity was irregular and radar indicated the storm might pass over Katoomba with fairly benign results. Before long the storm tracked NE along the ridge and arrived in Blackheath with moderate intensity. Lightning became quite regular and strong as hail fell in fairly heavy quantities up to 1cm in size but was mostly smaller. Northern parts of Blackheath had light to moderate cover of up to 1cm on the ground but southern areas around the golf course had notably heavier cover. Most of the hail fell in temps of around 5C or a little less and for a time it was about 2.5C with cold rain, soft hail and then some sleet falling before it became cold drizzle. No snow fell during the storm although very light, wet snow may have fallen in the middle of the night but it was more likely hail melt that was recorded in rain gauges. A nice freeze occured overnight with a minimum of -2C in my screen and a welcome 16mm of precipitation. After a very quiet month or two weatherwise, this event was very welcome. See my snow photos link on the main page for images of this event. NB: Total rainfall from this storm may have been closer to 30mm near the golf course.

June 2006:

2-6-06: By lunchtime in Blackheath, it had become very cold. The approaching front, according to the models, looked like it might give some light snow to high spots like Mt Trickett and Shooters Hill but that was about it. Work commitments prior to this event had kept my mind away from any detailed analysis and to see the temp at around 4C at my place with light rain surprised me. In hindsight, it shouldn't have. An unstable airmass with cold upper level temps was approaching and there is always the chance of colder than expected conditions under cold air, convection cells. By early afternoon Andrew Miskelly posted on Weatherzone forums that snow was observed in higher areas around Taralga and it was clear that this system was bighting a little harder than first thought. A quick call to my snowchaser mate Adam and we were soon heading to our favourite spots, high on the central ranges.

We were somewhat surprised to see moderately heavy sleet falling by the time we got to Lowther so things were looking good for Mt Trickett, our first planned stop. Rain at Caves House soon gave way to sleet then snow as we climbed up to the navigational facility at around 1360 metres above sea level. Snow play was had in a nice 3cm cover, photos taken and by around 4pm we headed towards Shooters Hill, not sure if we would make it. Falling snow backed off a little as we approached Edith and sleet became the precipitation of choice. We were a little surprised to see only light settled snow here and took the turnoff to Shooters hoping for more. It didn't take long to find it. The trusty 2WD struggled to hold firm on the bitumen as snow cover thickened, we decided to park amongst the pine sapplings a few kilometres short of Shooters Hill. By now the snow was really bucketing down, not quite blizzard conditions but it was pretty impressive nonetheless. 5pm passed and Adam asked me once or twice if we should think about heading back to Oberon. In my usual snow obsessed way, I put off the decision for a few minutes and a few minutes longer until the road was completely covered and traction looked tricky. A local police officer pulled up behind us in his 4WD and advised us to head on out as they were closing the road, so we pulled onto the bitumen and proceeded to slide an struggle along for some kilometres until altitude or lack thereof provided some relief and traction.

In Oberon itself the snow was really coming down but it was a little wetter and stickier there. From there until the Mt Bindo turnoff we experienced bursts of quite heavy snow under cold air convection cells, then back to light snow and even sleet as basic stratiform cloud produced its usual output. Getting close to the Great Western Highway we put in a call to Blackheath and were told that snow was already settling there. Mt Victoria pass was more than half an hour away so we started hatching plans to park the car at the bottom of the pass and walk to the top and catch the train to Blackheath - an effort that would take a couple of hours at least in driving snow. Surprisingly as we reached the pass, rain and sleet was all we encountered and it wasn't until Mount Boyce that we saw snow on the ground with light to moderate snow falling. Blackheath township itself was fairly snowless but my place around a kilometre to the south east was covered with around 2cm of snow - such is the vagaries of snow falling in an unstable air mass under cold air cells. Under the cold air cells more moisture and colder air were producing better snowfalls but in the general cloudiness surrounding these cells, light sleet and snow was all there was on offer. It was a great experience and we came very close to an impromptu overnight stay at Shooters Hill, when snow was quite heavy. One of the most enjoyable chases we have ever been on.

2-6-06: A classic snow chaser experience on a motorbike!

Below is an account of Laurier Williams motorcycle ride from Blackheath to the south coast via Shooters Hill around lunchtime on the same Friday - a very worthwhile read indeed.

Had an interesting motorbike ride from Blackheath to Batemans Bay via Shooters Hill, Taralga and Braidwood this afternoon. I left Blackheath about noon, turned left before Oberon onto the Jenolan Caves Road, and turned right onto the Shooters Hill road about 12.45pm. I had run into light rain about Lowther, and the bike's air temp thermometer had been falling from about 8 at Hartley to 4 at the Jenolan Caves Road/Shooters Hill Road turnoff.

2km later (and about 100m higher) the thermo was reading 1C and the rain had turned to heavy wet snow. On a bike, this means using your gloved finger to wipe the snow off the visor every 10 seconds or so. Speed dropped to 40 as I approached the high country before you drop down to Shooters Hill settlement, and by now there was a thin but complete cover of snow on the ground. Temp was down to zero, and snow was still falling heavily. No slidiness yet, and I figured that I'd run out of the snow after losing altitude beyond Shooters.

By the time I got to the high point on the road, in the pine forest beyond Shooters, there was a complete white cover, temp was -1, time was about 1.15pm and heavy snow was still falling. I got off the bike to take a photo (mobile phone, and haven't got the connection here to download it, sorry) and a thick crust of congealed ice fell off me into a heap on the ground. I considered my options. Sportsbikes aren't renowned for their traction or stability in slippery conditions. So far, the road had been mostly clear of ice. I figured that I'd drop below the snowline fairly soon, so pressed on, forgetting that the road, after dropping down for 5km or so, rises to the Gurnang area.

Snow turned to sleet as I got to the Black Springs to Taralga road intersection, then turned into a full-roar snowstorm as I climbed to the Mt Werong/Yerranderie turnoff. By now, the road was carpetted white with no tyre tracks in either direction, and it'd been some time since I'd seen a vehicle in the opposite direction. No slips yet, but heavy snow continued and the visor was so iced up outside and fogged up inside that I was riding with it open, discovering that about 30km/h is the speed above which snowflakes inflict pain upon the eyes. The wind had picked up to the point that small branches were being blown off, but at least I could tilt my head towards the wind and avoid some of the blown snow. I thought apprehensively about the 9km of gravel road still to come, before you drop down into the Abercrombie River valley.

Still no sign of traffic. Not good. Then at the Yerranderie turnoff I found a ute, its owner and two dogs. "G'day", he said. "Bit blowy on the bike?". I didn't stop to chat for long, but it seems he stops here to give the dogs a run at this time every day.

Onwards. And upwards. I never realised how much altitude you gain around here, but maybe it was just perception tinged with apprehension. Still snowing heavily, ground completely white, road completely white. Very hard to keep loose on the bike when you're expecting to hit ice every second and you're caked in snow and starting to feel a bit cold. When I arrived at the 9km gravel section, which is being prepared for sealing, conditions hadn't changed and I prepared for the worst.

Surprisingly it wasn't so bad, apart from the odd squishy section, until the imbecile in the 4WD overtook me in a vortex of mud, slush and wind.

I welcomed the change to rain as I dropped down into the Abercrombie valley, and stopped at the desolate picnic area. Here, 50km from anywhere, the civic authorities have thoughtfully provided a 1x1.5m unisex privy. I needed it. It's a pit loo, full nearly to the top. The loo is rusted and has mostly fallen into the pit. But it was a haven from the rain, it was too cold to stink, and after an hour's intense concentration I needed a break. I took off my sodden gloves, lifted the helmet off my head, and as as my eyes refocussed on the view out the door, a elderly, grizzled head poked around and said "Don't suppose you'd like a coffee?"

It was luke-warm International Roast brewed long ago, but boy was it good. That also convinced me that this surreal experience was real, and that I hadn't died and gone to heaven, where it would have been Colombian or choice house mix. But I began to have second thoughts when he told me that he was on his way from Narooma to Queensland to make arrangements for his death. I teased this out a bit, and he said he was going to look for a nice retirement village at Maroochydore and make arrangements with the local funeral directors that his wake was to be held before he died so that he wouldn't miss the fun. He splashed back to his station wagon and struggled back to the loo with a huge framed photo of himself astride his 1938 Thruxton. When you ride a bike, you expect to be accosted at every third stop by a greybeard with tales of their Indian, Matchless or square-head Thunderbolt, but this was bizarre.

Concerned that snow may even now be accumulating on the Taralga side of the valley for which I was headed, I wished him the best death conceivable and pushed on. Happily, while there was a fuzz of white through to Richlands, the temperature was obviously rising and the snow easing. Golden sunbeams appeared in the west through the murk, and my fingers tingled as circulation returned.

This is why I love motorcycling and meteorology. You never know what is going to happen next.

Laurier

11-6-06:

This system was looking quite good on paper (in the charts) but the lack of really cold air in the upper levels seemed to be a problem and the high pressure ridge was a threat at stabilising the air a little too quickly as well, which can knock out any decent shower potential. Even though the event on the 2nd of June was much more emphatic in the end, this event had me interested as I was hopeful of a repeat performance. With a low pressure system developing off the coast there is always the potential of good snow falling somewhere along the ranges, if indeed the air was cold enough. Sadly, this system teased the Blue Mountains all day on the 11th with little to show for it. Cold drizzle in the morning in temps of around 3C gave way to very brief periods of sleet and very slight snow by the afternoon but not much at all. In the days leading up to the coldest air, we did get some good rain from the trough before it formed into a low off the coast. From Friday night into Monday morning we totalled 19.9mm for the event. Quite nice but not as much as was hoped for.

July 2006:

31-7-06:

A brief fall of snow was experienced today at Shooters Hill which lasted ten to fifteen minutes. It started at about 1:30pm and lovely large flakes floated about but did not settle much. Sleet fell when I arrived at Mt Trickett at around 12:30pm but no snow occured so I headed to Shooters Hill and the sleet was blowing sideways in very strong winds up there. I was hoping it would snow as the front passed over me and whilst it was not a major snowfall, it was better than nothing. A lovely drive was had on the way home too as the clouds parted and a beautiful winter sun fell across the paddocks. It looked very english as its fairly green out there at the moment. Head to the usual snow photos link on the main page for records of the event.

August 2006:

4-8-06:

This cold surge was interesting if not very productive as it moved over the central tablelands. On the 3rd in the afternoon, Blackheath had soft hail falling out of weak convective cells that looked quite like snow. The hail was covered in crystalline like snow crystals as it had formed in clouds that were very cold in their upper reaches (possibly -26C or colder). As they fell and approached the surface where the relative humidity was not very high, the evaporative cooling effect apparently allowed the crystal structure to survive without melting even though it was about 8C at the time. After about ten minutes or so, the hail turned to light rain. By the next day, rain and sleet occured in the Blue Mountains and some hail also fell as even colder upper level air moved over our area. No real snow from this system but a spectacular and quite dangerous water spout occured along the coast near Sydney, where it touched land and did some significant damage. Sydney had its coldest day in ten years (apparently) which tends to reflect just how mild recent winters have been rather than how cold this particular day was.

September 2006:

6-9-06:

By Wednesday the forecasting models were showing an okay system for September but it wasn't anything special. I guessed that Shooters Hill might see maybe a few cms of snow and Blackheath could perhaps see only a dusting if that. Well, its always nice to have a little surprise, especially this winter. I wasn't really planning on going out for this system as it didn't really grab me but as I watched the satellite imagery throughout the day, it looked a little better than the forecasts were saying. After checking the actual atmosphere readings from the weather balloon sounding near Adelaide, I was now convinced that this system was a bit stronger than most charts indicated.

By 6pm I had arrived at Shooters Hill to be greeted with light rain and a temp of 6C. By 6:40pm it had dropped to 4.6C and for an hour or so it seemed to stay there and my hopes of a good snowfall were diminishing. By 8:30pm sleet was occuring and not long after that I was happily surprised to see wet snow falling. By 9:15pm the snow was teeming down and I was in two minds as to whether I should stay atop Shooters Hill or head to lower ground near Edith. By 9:35pm, it was -0.5C and there was 3cm of snow all over the ground. I slid out of my little position next to the radio tower and headed towards Edith then Oberon. In Oberon at 10pm there was about a 2cm cover of very wet snow with flakes as big as 50 cent pieces at times. Before long it was back to sleet and I decided that I would head back to Shooters Hill to see if I could get back up to the top.

No chance. Half way up the car slid and skidded and made no more progress. It was around midnight by this time so I again headed back along the Shooters road and pulled into a fire trail for the night, not far from Edith but still on Shooters road. I dozed fitfully from about 1am to 3am and awoke to find the car covered in snow with about 4 or 5cm on the ground. It was quite wet snow and 1C but falling quite heavily. I headed to Edith at around 3:30am for breakfast. By 4:30am or so, the snow had stopped so I made my final dash to Shooters Hill in an attempt to get to the top again. I nearly made it but the car started spinning about 500 metres or so from the top so I took some photos and at around 6:30am headed for home. I'd estimate the snow depth around the Shooters area to be in the 5 to 10cm range and sometimes more on various hills. Back home in Blackheath my wife had the camera out recording our nice little fall of about 1.5cm or so. A great snow chase for September! We also received 42mm of rain from this event for the 24 hours to 9am. Be sure to check the photos via the usual photos link on the main page.

10-9-06:

A quick trip to Mt Trickett on Saturday night only produced icy rain and some very light sleet. This setup just didn't get cold enough for any snow. It was very windy out there with some trees down and the new lambs were suffering but apart from some more sleet overnight there was little else to report. I am still surprised a graziers alert wasn't put out for the CT as in spite of no snow it was still very cold in numerous areas and impacted on livestock to some extent. Another thing I have observed out this way of late is the amount of wombats that have been killed on the roads. I have counted fifteen dead wombats in the last week.