Australian Drought, Australian Flood

Australian Drought, Australian Flood

Australian Drought, Australian Flood

The recent flooding in Australia, covering an area in Queensland the size of Germany and France combined, was not quite so unprecedented as it might appear at first glance. Australia is well known for its weather extremes, and these have taken the form of extended droughts and floods throughout its history.

Australia as a continent has the least average amount of rainfall of all the continents, with the exception of Antarctica. Over 40% of Australia consists of sand dunes. Cold western currents prevent large scale evaporation of water to create clouds and rain and the lack of mountains in the west prevent the formation of clouds and rain due to uplift of air currents.

In the east, the Great Dividing Range or the Eastern Highlands, runs over 2100 miles along almost the entire eastern coast and prevents moist winds from reaching the arid interior, while portions of this coast, especially in the north, are tropical and subtropical and have very high levels of rainfall.

The El Nino/La Nina-Southern Oscillation also causes major fluctuations in the water temperature of the Southern Pacific, and has a deep impact on rainfall in the region, with long term effects on weather patterns, drought and the like.

Australia’s recent flooding broke a devastating three year drought (2007-2009) in Queensland and South Wales, and this was itself the end product of a decade long dry period which saw kangaroos and other native Australian species invading Canberra and other relatively wet locales in their search for sustenance.

In 2007, the entire state of Victoria was affected by drought, the first time since records were kept that this was so. There were droughts as far back as 1864-1866, and continuing droughts between 1880- 1886, 1895-1903, 1911-1916, 1939-1945, and 1963-1968. In many of these periods, millions of sheep and cattle died, as well as large numbers of native species, and farming was drastically curtailed, with the wheat crop especially impacted. Between 1958 and 1967, the always arid central part of Australia experienced its longest and most severe drought . Other droughts took place between 1982-1983 and 1991-1995, and of course the current drought just ended was also of extended duration and extremely destructive to farming and industry, coal mining in particular.

Current flooding may be the most destructive in terms of dollar damages, but Brisbane and other areas have been flooded extensively before (1893, 1974, 2011), and the fact that many towns were built on flood plains despite the warnings of native Aborigines, the indigenous people of the area, only exacerbated the problem.

Australians take a perverse pride in their environmental extremes, which include heat waves and bush fires, not just drought and floods. Recent widespread and spontaneous efforts by great numbers of the citizenry to help their neighbors clean up the mud and debris from the recent flooding attests to the resiliency of the Australian people and their powerful civic sense of duty and responsibility. It is likely that the recent troubles will simply add to the long heroic trail of tears that periodically rend this diverse and beautiful country.

By: Larry. Isaacson

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