Right: University of New England Sporting Fields with
snow covered hills in the background on 4 July 1984.
Photographed by Simon Smith
Where and When does it Snow?
Outside of the Australian Alps snowfalls in the
Central and Northern Tablelands are erratic and usually short lived. In recent
years winter temperatures in the Northern Tablelands having been slowly rising
resulting in fewer and lighter falls in Armidale.
Often the cold southerly changes bringing snow north of the Alps only make it as far as the Central Tablelands or the Barrington Tops. On other occasions snow falls in the southern part of the Northern Tablelands in places like Niangala, Hanging Rock and Walcha, but that is as far north as it reaches with Armidale missing out. More infrequently snow will fall over the entire tablelands and into southern Queensland with the higher areas around Guyra and Ben Lomond receiving the heaviest falls.
In the early 1960s Armidale averaged almost three days with snow per year. Now that average has fallen to less than two days per year.
As for settling falls of snow, in the early 1970s the average was about 1.5 settling falls per year. Now that average is down to less than one settling fall per year.
The graph shows all snowfalls (settling and non-settling since 1957). Note the trend line.
An analysis of temperatures recorded over the last 36 years at the present UNE/BOM weather station site shows that in the early 1980s maximum temperatures over the three winter months averaged just over 12 degrees. In 2016 that average had risen to 14 degrees. The number of cold wintry days with maximums of less than 10 degrees (usually caused by cold outbreaks from the south which sometimes bring snow) has dropped over the same period from 20 to just 8 showing a definite trend towards milder winters.
An interesting side effect of the milder winter days
is that there are now more cloudless nights which in turn is increasing the
number of frosts. In 1981 the average annual number of frosts was 91. That
average has now risen to 98 although average winter minimum temperatures are
showing any increase or decrease.
Conditions Required for Snow to Fall
For snow to fall the following conditions
A cold front or "cold outbreak" moving up from the south or south-west consisting of very cold air from the south of the continent. An upper level pool of cold air is also often associated with the system. Obviously the system will need to have reasonable amounts of moisture to generate precipitation.
Winds must be from the west, south-west or south. Armidale sometimes experiences cold winter winds blowing from the east or south-east, but these winds never bring snow.
The air temperature must be 3 degrees or lower otherwise snowflakes will melt before reaching the ground. On some occasions milder conditions may precede the arrival of the cold air, but it does not necessarily have to "warm up before it can snow."
The temperature will usually drop to zero degrees or lower as snow starts falling.
If the ground is cold enough, snow will settle, usually on grass first, then cars, roofs, bare ground, and cement and bitumen last. Once there is a layer of snow on the ground further snow will build up on it quite quickly. Unfortunately snow usually does not fall continuously enough in Armidale for this build up to occur to more than a minor extent. Snow depths on the ground of more than two or three centimetres are rare.
Details of Snowfalls in Armidale since 1971
Below is a list of dates on which moderate or heavy
snowfalls occurred in Armidale.
Only falls which settled on the ground are recorded here. In the earlier years just the dates are given, but in the later years details are provided on individual falls.
1971 - August 15
1972 - July 8
1974 - July 8, August 15, 16
1975 - June 12, July 12, 13
1976 - Sept 9,10
1977 - June 30, July 1
1978 - May 12, June 14, 15, July 12
1979 - August 12, 13
1982 - June 20, 21
1984 - July 3, 4 - this was a major event, see separate account below.
1986 - July 9, August 5
1990 - June 28 - snow fell during early hours of morning and there was a light cover on the ground
- August 3 - moderate fall from 8am to 12 noon with cover on the ground about one
cm deep. It melted quickly after 12 noon.
1994 - July 31 - snow and sleet fell intermittently in the early hours of the morning from around
midnight and there was a good white cover on the ground at dawn, after which it slowly
melted with a few patches still remaining in shaded areas at 10am.
1996 - July 13 - moderate fall from 12.00 to 1.20am approx. settling to a depth of 1 to 2 cms
remaining on the ground till around 11am.
- August 19 - snow started in the early morning and continued intermittently throughout the
day. There was a light cover on the ground in early morning but melted soon after 9am.
1998 - June 23 - 9.30am to 12 noon approx - slight snow showers with snow starting to settle on
the ground briefly at 10.15am, but melted soon after. Mostly sago snow.
1999 - August 14 - moderate snow shower from 5.35 to 6pm which settled on the ground briefly.
2000 - July 27 - moderate snowfall from 8 to 8.30pm which settled to a depth of 2 to 4 cms. The
snow remained on the ground until around 10am the next day.
2001 - August 26 - light continuous snow fell from 8 to 9.15pm and settled on the ground, but
melted around two hours later.
2004 - July 17/18 - light snow from 9pm through to the early hours of the morning left a patchy
white cover on the ground in the higher parts of the city. It had mostly melted by 11am.
2005 - June 23 - light showers of snow throughout the day until 4pm. There was a very patchy
light cover on the ground in the early morning in some parts of the city which melted quickly.
2008 - May 17 - moderate snow from 10.30 to 11.10pm settling to give a patchy cover, but melting
in the early hours of the following morning.
- July 9 - light snow showers throughout the day with the best fall from 2.25 to 2.50pm when
large flakes settled on the ground to give a thin cover which melted soon after.
2014 - July 18 - light snow showers between 7am and 9am. Snow did not settle on the ground in the
centre of the city, but there was a settling fall at the university and in South Armidale.
2015 - July 13 - early morning snow showers partly settled to give a patchy cover in the centre of
the city, a little heavier in South Armidale.
July 17 - light snow during the morning until around 11am. Snow settled to give a patchy
cover on the ground about 1 cm deep. Snow was a little deeper in other parts of Armidale.
The July 1984 Snowfalls
Below: The temperature was -1C when this photograph was taken by
Col Mulquiney at Central Park in the morning of 4 July 1984
Without a doubt the spectacular snowfalls in the New England region on July 3rd & 4th 1984 were the heaviest and most prolonged for many years. Some older residents claimed they were the best for at least 50 years.
An intense cold front pushed up from the south-west passing through Armidale at around 9am on Tuesday July 3rd bringing in its wake very cold air and sub-zero temperatures. Armidale's maximum temperature on Tuesday was 2.6 degrees, and the maximum on the 4th up to midnight on Wednesday was 1.4 degrees. These were record low maximums. The minimums were -0.8 degrees and -2.1 degrees respectively.
The snow started at around 9.30am on Tuesday as the temperature quickly dropped from 2.6 degrees to just below zero. The snow then continued without stopping for 33 hours until around 6.30pm the following day. The temperature remained below zero for this whole time allowing snow to settle and build up to a depth of several centimetres, particularly overnight on Tuesday. There was a good cover on the ground by late afternoon on Tuesday, and in the morning of Wednesday all roads in the city were covered. The New England Highway was blocked at the Devil's Pinch and several other locations north of Armidale, and it was also blocked to the south at the second Moonbi Hill. The railway line was also blocked north of Dumaresq. The outbreak was so intense that snowfalls extended over the border into south-east Queensland with snow falling in Toowoomba for the first time in 25 years.
Unfortunately for snow lovers, the 1984 event was the
last such major snowfall in this region. Most subsequent falls have been
particularly mediocre in comparison.
Right: Snow covered garden in South Armidale on 9 July 2008.
Photographed by Paul Lasker.
Gallery of snow photographs on the Northern Tablelands here.
Snow has fallen in southern Queensland on numerous occasions over the last century.
Details and an analysis of snowfalls in south-eastern Queensland since 1878 here.
© Article by Peter
Burr. This article is copyright. No part may be reproduced
for commercial purposes without prior permission from the author.
Updated 7 Feb 2017.
Return to Weather Home