Severe Hailstorms at Armidale NSW

© Compiled by Peter Burr, UNE.  No part of the following may be reproduced for commercial
purposes without prior permission from the author.


Severe hailstorms seem to be more common in recent times. Armidale has been unlucky with three such storms striking the city in just over a ten year period.
The first in September 1996 was the worst of the three with the largest hailstones causing the most amount of damage. The entire city was affected.
The second storm in January 2000 had smaller hailstones, but widespread damage to most of the city resulted.
The third storm in December 2006 affected only the eastern half of Armidale, but severe damage occurred to this area.

The following reports describe in detail each of the three events.




September 29th 1996 

Sunday September 29th 1996 started out as a fairly normal Armidale spring day - a thin veil of cloud covering the sky in the morning, winds were light north-westerlies, and humidity was high. The stage was set for the most spectacular and destructive weather event to strike Armidale in living memory.

By lunch time the sky became darker with storm clouds building in the west, and the familiar but ominous sound of rumbling thunder was heard in the distance. A storm arrived just before 2pm with rain and small hailstones - around 10 millimetres diameter. The rain stopped at 2.30pm but thunder continued to rumble intermittently.

Then at 3pm it approached from the south-west - a dark menacing cloud with an unusual colour. Many said later that it appeared orange or pink which may have been caused by excessive dust in the cloud. Thunderclouds containing hail are more normally greenish in colour. The thunder increased and light rain started falling. Many residents were indoors watching the Rugby League Grand Final, no one had any idea of what was about to happen. There had been no severe storm warning.

What was actually happening was a huge cumulonimbus storm cloud or a supercell was building up about ten to fifteen kilometres south-west of Armidale. Inside this cloud massive updraughts were sweeping tiny particles of dust and ice up into the higher reaches where supercooled droplets of water were waiting to freeze onto them upon impact creating small hailstones. These hailstones were then falling to the lower levels before again being caught in the updraughts. After making many trips up and down in the giant cloud the hailstones had become bigger than golf balls too heavy to remain aloft, and started plummeting to the ground. Unfortunately at this stage the storm cloud was approaching Armidale.

At 3.23pm the first of the hailstones fell on the city. At this stage the stones were 10 to 20 mm in diameter. They fell for about two minutes, then eased briefly. A roaring sound was then heard across the valley from the south-west as the main surge of hail approached. This was the sound of millions of large hailstones hitting roofs. Then the huge hailstones started falling. They made a deafening sound on roofs, and as they hit roads and hard surfaces they bounced several metres back into the sky. The wind started gusting from the south-west which was devastating for thousands of south and west facing windows - the sound of breaking glass accompanied the roaring of the hail. Then at 3.30pm it was all over. The black cloud rumbled its way to the north-east as residents cautiously came out to survey the damage.

The scene that faced them was one of smashed windows, dented cars with cracked windscreens, stripped gardens, fallen branches, outdoor furniture destroyed, television antennas bent, and everywhere on the ground thousands of golf ball-size chunks of ice. Some hailstones where almost spherical, others jagged and irregular shaped. Diameters of 30 to 50 millimetres were typical in the centre of the city, but in other parts diameters of up 80 mm (cricket ball size) were measured. Around 60 to 70 per cent of the ground was covered with hailstones, some of which had become partly buried in the ground after hitting with considerable force. In other parts of the city, particularly South Armidale between the airport and South Hill the hail cover was 100 per cent with a depth of 10 to 20 centimetres making driving hazardous. Maximum wind gusts of 70 kilometres per hour in the centre of the city and 156 kilometres per hour at the airport were recorded during the height of the storm.

As the extent of the damage became apparent, the State Government declared Armidale a disaster zone. State Emergency crews from as far as Coffs Harbour, Dorrigo and Manilla were called in to assist local personnel. Over 1000 tarpaulins were placed on leaking roofs, the children's ward at the hospital was evacuated as water dripped through the ceiling, the historic Newling Building (formerly Armidale Teacher's College) suffered severe damage to windows, skylights and slate roof, and aircraft at the airport sustained damage. Although the whole city was affected, parts of South and East Armidale received the greatest damage.

It was later established that about 80 per cent of buildings in the city, and in excess of 3000 vehicles had suffered damage. The total cost was estimated to be close to 200 million dollars.

Armidale was extremely unlucky with this storm - the biggest hailstones fell mostly on the city itself while nearby areas received little or no hail. Armidale averages 56 thunderstorms per year with only seven per cent of these producing hail of any size. In the 25 years prior to this event there had been only three other severe storms with damaging hail - one in 1975 and two in 1994, but these were minor compared to the 1996 storm.

It was considered to be a "one in one hundred years event", and will go down in Armidale's history as the most destructive weather event in the 20th Century.

The times quoted in this report refer to the centre of Armidale. Obviously these would have varied in other parts of the city.
 


Hail 4Hail 5

 

Hail 2

Hail 3


Top left:  Looking north along the New England Highway near the airport. The hailstorm can be seen in the right of the image moving across Armidale to the north-east.

Top right:  Traffic had ground to a halt on the slippery ice-covered highway. This image looking south towards the airport on the by-pass.

 

Above left:  Looking north down The Avenue in South Armidale.

 

Above right:  A bus is having difficulty driving up The Avenue.    All images by John Fields.




 
January 1st 2000 

A spectacular start was made to the new year at Armidale when a massive hailstorm swept through the city in the late afternoon of the 1st of January 2000.

 

The huge thundercloud built up to the south-west of the northern tablelands city from about 5pm onwards giving warning rumbling sounds which gradually increased. At 5.45pm the thunder was almost continuous as the sky darkened. At this stage the storm cloud was partially obscured by low ragged scud cloud which was swirling across the sky blown by gusting south-easterly winds.

 

At 5.50pm rain started falling as the cloud moved in from the south-west. Then the band of hail approached. It moved in quite slowly preceded for several minutes by a roaring sound - the sound of hail hitting distant roofs. This gave some residents, who recognised the warning sound, time to place cars and other vulnerable items under cover.

 

At 5.55pm the first hailstones started falling in the CBD. They were few at first, but rapidly increased. For about five minutes the the large hailstones pelted down, then became smaller but continued for another ten minutes. At 6.10pm the hail stopped, but heavy rain continued until around 6.50pm.

 

The hailstones came in all sizes, the biggest measured 40 millimetres in diameter (golf ball size). Most were  roughly spherical, only a few were conglomerates of multiple stones fused together. The ground was completely covered by the hailstones, several centimetres deep in places, and large open areas of the city resembled snowfields. The ice banked up deeply against south-facing walls and fences and much of it was still there the next morning, not completely melting until around midday.

 

The hail affected the whole city as was well as some surrounding areas. It appears to have started some 10 or 15 kilometres to the south-west of Armidale and continued several kilometres to the north, after lashing the city, before dissipating.

 

Rainfall including melted hail recorded in the hour from 5.50 to 6.50pm was 26.8 millimetres which caused flash flooding in Dumaresq Creek with water covering many of the causeways in the city. Very cold air was swept in by the storm. The temperature dropped from 17 degrees at 5.45pm to 9 degrees at 6pm, and the minimum temperature the following morning was just 4.2 degrees which is unusually low for January.

 

Damage to the city included hundreds of destroyed gardens, leaves and branches stripped from trees, cracked roof tiles, broken skylights, smashed windows, and a large number of dented vehicles including new and used cars at car yards. Many householders also suffered water leaking into homes as a result of blocked and overflowing roof gutters.



Photographs of this event are required. If you have any of this hailstorm which could be used with this report please email them here.






December 21st 2006

 

A severe hailstorm swept through central and East Armidale in the afternoon of December 21st.

 

The storm moved in from the south just after 3pm cutting a path of destruction through East Armidale. The hail fell from 3.10pm for about 15 minutes with hailstones mostly up to 3 centimetres in diameter, but some were up to golf ball size around 4 centimetres. Strong winds in excess of 80 kilometres per hour accompanied the storm driving hailstones horizontally at times. Ice piled up to a depth of 50 centimetres in some areas against east and south facing walls and fences, and two wheel drive vehicles were unable drive on many ice-covered streets for some time after the storm finished.

 

Widespread damage was caused in the form of broken windows and skylights, felled trees, dented cars, damaged outdoor furniture, and destroyed Christmas lights. The roof of the Livestock Exhibition Centre in Canambe Street completely collapsed under the weight of the hail, and leaking roofs was another problem with many buildings due to hail-clogged gutters. The strong winds also caused roof damage to some houses.

After the storm the area east of Marsh Street resembled a winter snow scene, and due cooling of the air by the thick layer of ice, a shallow fog developed and remained over the area for several hours. Streets, footpaths and parks were strewn with a layer of branches and leaves stripped from hundreds of trees and shrubs, and many gardens suffered total destruction. The next morning large drifts of ice still remained on the ground well into the day.

 

As the storm moved in the temperature plunged from 24 degrees at 2.45pm to just 11 degrees at 3.15pm. Rainfall at the East Armidale weather station totaled 23.2 mm up to 9am the following day. The airport recorded just 7 mm and the UNE campus recorded 8 mm. The actual amount which fell was probably much higher than 23.2 mm due to the rain and hailstones being blown almost horizontally. Also many hailstones may have bounced out of the funnel of the rain gauge.

 

The day after the storm the state government declared the storm affected area as a Natural Disaster Area.

Although most hailstones were no bigger than golf ball size, there were some claims of isolated tennis ball size hailstones.


 

Hail2 21-12-06Hail3 21-12-06

 

Hail Canambe St 211206Hailstorm, Ex

 

Top left:  The aftermath. North Street is covered with ice and leaves.

 

Top right:  Looking east down Erskine Street from the Faulkner Street intersection. Note the white ice covered hill.

 

Above left:  An eerie mist developed over East Armidale after the storm passed as shown in this Canambe Street view.

 

Above right:  The sign says: “Armidale Exhibition Centre”. The collapsed structure is just out of sight to the left. These trees all had leaves on them an hour earlier.
Images two and three by Maureen Heap.






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