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Outback Climate and Weather


Australia is the driest habitable continent on earth, and as a continent is subject to many different weather areas. The arid zone covers over 70% of the inland and is made up of many microclimates. Climatologists agree that the arid zone is set by isohyets ( the contours of areas of equal rainfall). This is 400mm in wet dry tropical northern Australia, 150mm in the colder and drier east and south, and 200mm in the west. There are some basic rules to the weather. Summer is HOT. Winter is mild. It doesn’t rain very often. It can rain at any time of year. It can also choose to rain regularly, or not at all. There are no averages. Sometimes no rain falls for years. Only in the wet dry tropics is there a wet and a dry season. Australia’s deserts are climactically capricious.This page contains climate information that is relevant to the southern half of Outback Australia including Eastern New South Wales, Northern South Australia, Eastern Western Australia, the southern regions of the Northern Territory, and Western Queensland. It also contains links to current weather information.

Seasonal variations in wind patterns are controlled by shifts in the position of the high-pressure belt (which forms part of the global sub-tropical ridge), from the southern portions of the continent in summer to the latitudes of central Australia in winter. During the warmer half of the year (October – March), the ridge is located in the south of the area; most of the prevailing winds are from the southeast quadrant. During autumn the mean position of the ridge moves north and remains over the centre of the continent for the cooler months (April to September), and winds tend to be lighter. Gale force winds (in excess of 61kph) are uncommon, being most frequent from October to December when they are observed on average one day per month
. In many parts of the outback Aboriginal people call this windy season.

Rainfall variability in the Outback is among the highest in Australia, and average annual totals are amongst the lowest. In effect there is no real seasonality. The principle synoptic influences on rainfall are of tropical origin, taking the form of moist tropical airmass incursions, rain and monsoon depressions and thunderstorms. Even so, mid latitude influences together with frontal activities produce rain. In other words, the tail ends of tropical cyclones can come down from the north and deluge the country in summer, as can the tips of cold frontal systems from the south in winter. The northern half of South Australia lies on the northern or southern end of these systems, and therefore is the driest place in Australia. The driest recorded place in Australia is Mulka Station on the Birdsville Track, where rainfall is below 120mm per annum.
Evaporation is dependent on sunshine, temperature, humidity and wind, and is measured as a potential value, assuming an unlimited water supply. Average evaporation rates in the Outback are greater than 3,400 mm. In the Simpson Desert they are estimated to be 3,800 – 4,000mm.
Drought refers to an acute water shortage. It implies that rainfall for a given period is less than a certain threshold. In Oodnadatta, years with rainfall in the first decile (ie. The lowest 10% of falls on record) since 1900 were 1900, 1915, 1918, 1928, 1929, 1934, 1937, 1940, 1944, 1951, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1965, 1967, 1970, 1972 and 1990.


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Sand Dunes and weather
How does the weather create the sand dunes that cover so much of the Australian continent?

Deserts of Australia
The webs most comprehensive free information site on all the desert regions of Australia


  climate simpson desert  
Graphic example from satellite image of wind picking salt up from Lake Eyre and blowing it hundreds of kilometers north into the Simpson Desert.
Latest satellite image of Australian Weather
Click here for the latest image from the Bureau of Meteorology.

Maximum temperatures average 36-39°C in summer and 18-24°C in winter. Temperatures are cooler in the Flinders Ranges and the Central Australian Ranges. July is generally the coolest month. In winter the temperature can drop well below freezing with frosts occurring up to 50% of mornings during July and August. Temperatures in the sand hills are often hotter than the plains, rising to the high 50°C range. The gibber stones heat to 80°C.

The bureau of Meteorology only records events where horizontal visibility is reduced to below 1,000 metres. At Oodnadatta, 5 storms are recorded on average per annum. The frequency of dust storms is relative to ground cover or lack of it. After the rabbit plagues and periods of drought, horrendous storms are recorded. The banner at the top of this page shows a duststorm we encountered at 4pm. on 8th. October 1999 near Gosses Springs at Lake Eyre South.
Click here for a personal experiences of duststorms.

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