An account of Queensland Snowfalls from 1878 by Nicholas Oughton
to snowy Queensland. Wallangarra in the early morning
of 17 July 2015
He who has seen the eternal snows,
Noonday white and evening rose,
Though he descend down into the plain,
Never is the same again,
And in the mind and dirt and sweat,
Cannot lose, cannot forget,
The radiance of the eternal snows,
Noonday white and evening rose.
Building a Snowman, Girraween National Park, Queensland, 4th July 1984. Photo courtesy
and Siegfried Manietta
For many children, the excitement of freshly fallen snow and the magical transformation it makes of a familiar world is seldom forgotten. For those who have never seen snow, stories of white Christmases; Artic adventure; the conquest of high mountains; winter holidays in exotic countries; and fairy tales set in unfamiliar snow bound countries infuse a powerful mythology – one that lasts into adult life.
For those who don’t live among the eternal snows, but where snow is more rarely experienced, such as South-East Queensland, a winter snowfall provides a diversion from the humdrum regularity of everyday life – a period of imaginative escape– a remnant of childhood dreams and fantasies. Unusual falls of snow can transform people, making them more gregarious, good humored and generous of spirit. When it snows in Queensland, many folk pack up their cars with warm cloths, children and excitement, and head for the Queensland snow line.
Above the Queensland snow line. Snowman and friends at Wallangarra 17th July, 2015
Snow In South East Queensland
Historically speaking, snowfall is not rare in South East Queensland occurring on average a little more than once per year over the past 137 years. However, several years may pass without snow falling somewhere in Queensland.
Interestingly, The Queenslander magazine of the 6th November 1895 noted that: ‘Snow is unknown in Queensland, except at the Stanthorpe Highlands, and very rarely falls even there’. The facts are, however, that snow has fallen as far North as the Clark Ranges near Mackay, as far West as Texas and can hardly be described as a rare event on Queensland’s Granite Belt. Snow has even been observed falling in Brisbane. According to the ‘Argus’ News Paper of Tuesday 8th August 1982.
The reported fall of snow in Brisbane has been confirmed by many persons who witnessed it. The snow was most noticeable in Woolloongabba, but in Stanley Street, South Brisbane, it was sufficiently heavy to allow of people wiping it from their clothing...It is said that snow fell in this city 35 years ago. At Toowoomba, the local paper says, on the same date, "towards 12 o'clock, light flaky snow began to flit about, and these were followed by unmistakable drifting showers of real snow. Spring-hill road was quite white, as were also the footpaths in some parts of the town, and we learn that at Clifton-plains about 2in. of snow covered the ground.
Two Recent Snow Events in in South East Queensland
The Big Snow, 13th to 17th July 2015
This surprising snow event commenced on Sunday 13th of July with snow flurries and sleet at Eukey, some 12 kilometres from Stanthorpe. Local cafe owner Amanda Blair said business had been booming in the border town since Saturday. "It has been so busy. From 7:30am in the morning there was a stream of traffic heading south and it was like that all weekend," said Ms. Blair. "As soon as people hear about snow they head to the border. "We used to be asked often about where the snow is, but with Facebook, now the locals don't get asked as many questions." Snow again fell at Eukey on Monday the 14th with settling falls just over the Border at Mt Mackenzie. These events, however, were just teasers for what was to follow.
exciting event in the late evening of July 16th, Ken Kato wrote: “At
approximately 11:40pm some tufts of cloud started to appear – then within the space of only a few mins, it went from
absolutely clear skies to totally overcast. The first flakes fell at 11:45pm.
By midnight, it started to really come down. By 1am, it was close to
blizzard/snowstorm conditions at times with wet snow changing to dry powder
snow for quite awhile. Dry snowflakes were blowing horizontally with gusts of
wind roaring through the trees and making the power lines hum. Visibility was
down to around 100m and snowdrifts began forming,
I almost got bogged in deep snow near Eukey in an area with no mobile phone reception so I thought I might have to flag down a passing motorist. The only thing that saved me was collecting a mass of sticks and stones to put under my tyres to get just enough grip to get out. The weight of the snow was also bending many of the branches on smaller trees right over onto the road itself.
The accumulation rates were approaching those I've experienced during some of the lower to mid range Nor’easters in the US. I got bad frostbite despite wearing boots, socks and gloves due to prolonged exposure to snow and wind-chill; and having to take gloves off to take pics and video. My fingers and especially my toes swelled up so much, I couldn't walk properly in my shoes, so I had to limp only short distances. I was on the verge of going to the doctor, but thankfully it suddenly came good and has been since.
Snow on the fence near Eukey morning of the 17th July 2015. Photo courtesy of Ken Kato
chasing on the night of 16/17th July reminds us of precautions we
should all take when exposing ourselves to extreme weather events. I also snow-chased on the Granite Belt with my family on Friday 17th;
arriving at midday after the thaw had set in. We chose a lovely winery
with warm fire to enjoy a delicious lunch imbibing a lovely locally produced
The author, Nicholas Oughton, 17th July 2015 at 2.06pm. Eukey Road west of Hidden Creek Winery.
Photo Sue Pickford
The Great Fall of July 1984
Snow began falling on The Granite Belt on Tuesday 3rd of July with falls continuing intermittently till Thursday the 5th. Heavy falls were recorded at Mount Tully and Eukey (South-East of Stanthorpe) where the snow cover was reported to be 60cm deep in surrounding areas with 15cm in the town. In Stanthorpe the snow was ‘welcomed with sheer delight by most residents’ (Border Post July 5 1984). The snowmen and snowball fights that erupted on every corner of the town attested to the general euphoria. To the east of the Stanthorpe grazers began moving ewes, and does in lamb into shelter as the snow persisted.
‘Just like a Christmas scene’ is how stranded Warwick bowler Mrs. Pat Collins described the view from her Tenterfield motel room as she and five friends played cards and watched the snow fall (Daily News July 4 1984). The bowlers, who were visiting Tenterfield to take part in a bowls tournament, became stranded when snow and ice made the road back into Queensland dangerous. In Brisbane it also ‘tried hard to snow’ reported a spokesman for the weather Bureau. Guests on the 21st floor of Lennon’s Hotel in the city told how they had seen snow blowing past their windows. The snow, however, turned to sleet before it hitting the Brisbane streets. The closest settling snow to Brisbane fell on mount Tambourine and mount Glorious., a one our drive from the City.
The Pyramids, Girraween National Park, viewed across open fields during the snow event
of July 1984. Photo courtesy of Ulrike and Siegfried Manietta.
An extraordinary lemming like rush to see Queensland’s very own snowfields began on the Tuesday 3rd July when hundreds of sightseers headed for the Granite Belt. The local telephone system became overloaded and broke down as people endeavoured to tell their friends of the great event. A full account of this great event here.
There are ways to forecast snowfall in Queensland using information from weather maps and chatter on social Webb sites. A snow chasers guide to predicting and finding snow in Southeast Queensland here.
A Snow Fall Record for Queensland
The snowfall record for Queensland from 1878 to date has been compiled from a number of sources including the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) Brisbane, newspapers, observer reports, dated photos and my own records. Edited by Nicholas Oughton (revision date15th January, 2016). This record and comments can be found here.
Are There Cycles in Snow Years?
An analysis of South East Queensland snowfall history from 1878 shows a very loose cycle of approximately 4-5 years between good and poor snowy winters. This cycle, however, cannot be relied on in a predictive sense. Sadly for snow lovers, the snowfall ‘trend line’ (orange) in figure 1 below shows a steady decline in South East Queensland snow days from 1.6 to 0.8 falls per-year. On the other hand, snow can fall somewhere in South-East Queensland at any time between the months of May and November.
A second loose cycle demonstrated by the snowfall data shows a rotation of approximately 30-years between peak snow periods in South East Queensland. The most recent of these ‘fuzzy’ cycles should have peaked in the early 1990s, but did not arrive – global warming perhaps? The next peak should occur in the early 2020s – if at all.
Notes on Figure One
Figure one shows an area graph of the snow days that have occurred in South East Queensland, (predominantly the Southern Downs and Granite Belt districts) during the past 137 years. There have been 160 snow days during this period, which represents just over one snow day per year. Figure 1 also shows a 3-year moving average (Blue) and the 137-year trend line (orange). The trend shows a decline of approximately 50 per cent over the period.
Clearly the 50-year period from 1925-1975 was prominent for snow in South East Queensland realizing 60 per cent of total falls occurring during the past 137 years. Incidentally, only 79 of the last 137 years provided a snowfall in South East Queensland, thus, there is a 57% chance of snow falling somewhere in SE Queensland each year based on past records. There is no indication that this rate will improve according to the experience of recent years. There have been two 5-year snowy periods in Southeast Queensland during the past 137-years, these were 1928-1932 and 1958-1962 (see figure 2). Such circumstances may occur once more, however, global warming will militate against such a probability.
Despite this gloomy prognosis for fans of Queensland snow, there is some hope. Peter Burr (Armidale Weather) suggests that: “With winters becoming milder it seems unlikely that any further major 1984 intensity snowfalls will occur. However, with the ever-increasing erratic nature of weather systems, nothing can be ruled out with certainty. With the right conditions still occasionally occurring during the winter months, another good heavy snowfall is still possible”. Peter’s prediction came true in July 2015, with widespread heavy snow, from the Central Tablelands of NSW to Queensland’s Granite Belt and border ranges.
University of Melbourne climate scientist Professor David Karoly adds that: “Natural variability in the weather is still very important so while you will get occasions of cold extremes and climate change that doesn’t mean cold temperatures suddenly disappear, it just means there will be a reduced frequency of cold extremes and an increased number of hot extremes and that’s what we’ve seen over the last 50 years.”
Notes on Figure two
Figure two shows the number of snow days that occurred in SE Queensland for each 5-year period from 1878 to 2017 (one notional snow day has been added to the period 2013-17 prospectively). The chart shows that in two 5-year periods 1928 -1932 and 1958-1962 there was an average of 4-snow days per year and 2 snow days per year respectively. The periods showing the least frequency, for example 1993-1997 and 2008-2012 had an average of 0.4 snow days per year. The recent decline in snowfalls commenced in the early nineteen sixties.
The chart also reveals the fussy 30-year cycle, which failed to deliver on time in the period 1988-1992 (note the orange 2-period moving average). However, will snowy 2015 be a precursor of better things to come? The next peak should be in 2018-22. Here’s hoping!
The Best Time To See Snow and Sleet In SE Queensland
Figure three shows that the best opportunity to observe snow or sleet falling in SE Queensland is in the 20-day period (periods 9 and 10 in figure 3) from the 11th--30th July. According to past records, forty per cent of snowfalls in SE Queensland occur in July. The black line shows the 2-period moving average for smoothing purposes.
Fun in the Snow, in Stanthorpe, 17th July, 2015. Photo courtesy of the ABC
Glancing upwards, as the clouds glide across the moon,
Silver stars are out mingling with the drifting snowflakes,
A sight to enjoy here and now, for morning will be here soon,
A beautiful Christmas memory, deep in my heart to take.
Only one car comes up the street, as I walk along our lane,
Just a friendly snowman is there to greet me with a hello,
I stop, adjust his top hat, and reposition his pipe and cane,
This cold-hearted man has made a child smile, I know.
My ears lead me to the street corner where carollers sing,
As those old familiar notes drift towards me on the air,
More sounds seem to awaken as the bells distantly ring,
I felt nothing but a warming glow as I was standing there.
Extract from ‘Christmas Snow’ by Kelly Deschler
For further information contact Nicholas Oughton at: firstname.lastname@example.org