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Christ, the climate in Australia is harsh! Bushfire after bushfire. Murray-Darling river basin provides the water for most of Australia's agriculture. The climate and geography in Australia do not lend themselves to a highly fertile land. Australia has very little arable land and no great mountain peaks to speak of. Mt. Kosciuszko is Australia's highest. Australia has a few different climate regions: the tropics,the outback, and the temperate regions. The temperate areas are where most of the people live.


Australia's Climate & Geography


"A lack of an adequate ozone layer and more than its fair share of bushfires gives any curious visitor to Australia plenty of opportunities to get burned."  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic
climate Australia

When people think of the climate in Australia, their first reaction is beautiful sunny skies and white sandy beaches.  If peoples' impressions of Australia's climate were fog and rain, it would not regularly rank in the top of polls for best immigration destinations.

Most everyone on planet earth by now knows that Australia, lying south of the equator, experiences seasons opposite to those countries lying north of the equator (i.e North America, Europe, Asia).   In Australia, spring would officially run from September 21 to December 20; summer from December 21 to March 20; autumn from March 21 to June 20; and winter from June 21 to September 20. 

Australian bush fire

Ample chances for a sun tan

Australia is the driest continent on earth.   To generalize, summers here will feel hotter here than they do in Europe or North America.  With the thin ozone layer over the continent, dim rays you wouldn't think about twice at home feel so much more intense here.  Bush fires aren't uncommon in the summers. Just two months before I got to the Grampians National Park in Victoria, a bushfire ravaged 50-60% of the park.  Winters can get cold, but compared to a snowy New England winter, it'll feel like you're in Miami.  And you won't see snow on much of Australia's mountains either, because Australia's not a very mountainous country and its peaks aren't high.  Mount Kosciuszko in New South Wales' Snowy Mountains has a height of just 2,228 meters (7,310 ft).  The top 100 mountain peaks in the American state of Colorado all surpass this, with number 100, Rio Grande Pyramid, measuring up at 4,213 meters (13,821 ft).   The skiing industry is overhyped in Oz.  Australians wanting an inexpensive quality skiing holiday fly to Japan.  

Australia's Climate Regions

Australia is a huge country (but small continent).  It doesn't have one temperature like Singapore.  The weather tends to vary more from north to south than it does west to east  

Darwin sunsetTROPICS:  The northern part of the country (northern Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and extreme northern Queensland) are all relatively close to Indonesia and share its tropical weather.  There are really only two seasons here, the Wet (November to April) and the Dry (May to October).  The Wet season has temperatures between 30-50° C (86-122° F).  In the Dry, temperatures are a more reasonable 20° C (68° F).   There is a build up period between the Wet and the Dry, as the season transitions from one to the other.  Humidity is high.  Winter temperatures are actually pleasant.  It doesn't get colder than 14° C (57° F).  The ideal time to visit the tropical regions, like Darwin, Kakadu, Karijini National Park, etc is September-October.

OUTBACK:   The Outback, the sparsely populated area in the central part of the country is best thought of as a desert,Outback of Australia with very hot days and very cool nights.  Considering that the winters in Australia aren't anything close to a day in Antarctica, the best time to be in the Outback -- places like Cooper Pedy, Alice Springs, or areas more remote -- is winter, when temperatures are about 20° C (68° F), like a cool summer's day in other parts of the world. A real summer's day in one of these places can average the same as your body temperature -- 37° C (98.6° F)  Thermal underwear and a heavily insulated sleeping bar are mandatory if you are camping in the Outback during the Australian winter.

TEMPERATE REGIONS:   This applies to most of the rest of the areas of the country where the majority of tourists are likely to devote their time.  We're talking about Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, and Perth, and the areas in between.  Summer temperatures average 30° C (86° F) and winter temperatures 15° C (59° F).   These are temperatures any normal person could easily live with.  Tasmania in the summer can get quite cold, with nighttime temperatures below 10° C (50° F) and sometimes below freezing the national parks.   Before I'd bothered to purchase a wider range temperature sleeping bag, I emerged a few evenings with icicles sprouting of my nostrils.  Tasmania may be better thought of as having a climate more similar to New Zealand than the rest of mainland Australia. climate regions of Australia

Australia's Water Issues

Australia is constantly compared to the United States.   The two nations are roughly the same size, speak the same language, and have a similar culture.   One area in which they not similar is water.   As a nation, the United States does not have a water problem, although in isolated or overdeveloped regions, water could be a problem. 

Australia may be roughly the same size as the continental United States, but it could never accommodate the population of the United States because of inadequate water supplies.  New Zealand, the same size as the United Kingdom, could actually accommodate a larger population if it imported food.  It just doesn't rain that much in Australia.  Average annual rainfall over the entire continent is just 455 ml (17.9) inches.   Broken down by area:

Australian Location Avg Annual Rainfall (mm)
Alice Springs (Northern Territory) 270
Adelaide (South Australia) 500
Hobart (Tasmania) 520
Canberra (Australian Capital Territory) 630
Melbourne (Victoria) 660
Perth (Western Australia) 790
Brisbane (Queensland) 1180
Sydney (New South Wales) 1220
Darwin (Northern Territory) 1690

These are surprising statistics.  Even the temperate areas like Hobart and Melbourne don't get much rainfall.  Compare the Australian figures to a variety of rainfall figures in the United States, taken from every region:

American Location Avg Annual Rainfall (mm)
Los Angeles, California   (Pacific) 305
Cheyenne, Wyoming  (Mountain) 393
Kansas City, Missouri  (West North Central) 914
Dallas, Texas   (West South Central) 941
Seattle, Washington  (Pacific) 942
Canton, Ohio   (East North Central) 977
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania   (Middle Atlantic) 1068
Portland, Maine   (New England) 1164
Birmingham, Alabama  (East South Central) 1220
Charleston, South Carolina   (South Atlantic) 1309
Bismarck, North Dakota   (West North Central) 1428

Notice that except for a few areas, nearly all the American regions show precipitation figures that rank with the best Australia can offer.  Only 12% of this infrequent Australian rainfall runs off into streams and rivers or soaks into the soil.   The end result is that Australia only has 1% of the water carried by the world's river systems although it has 5% of the world's land area, the worst percentage, by far, of any of the inhabited continents.

   
water carried by the world's rivers

Of this limited water supply, 70% gets used for agricultural purposes. The agricultural term 'arable land' refers to land that is fit for growing crops. Non-arable land may be classified as such because there's no water supply nearby, the land is too rocky, too mountainous, too salty, too polluted, too this or too that. According to the CIA World Factbook figures of 2006, Australia ranked #140 of the world's nations and territories in percentage of arable land, with just 6.15%. Compare that with other large nations like India (#7, 48.83%), Russia (#130, 7.17%), China (#77, 14.86%), Brazil (#133, 6.93%), and the United States (#61, 18.01%). Only Canada ranks worse than Australia (#151, 4.57%).

Australia is dry.  That can't be stressed enough.   Droughts are common here, but this is nothing new.   While Australia's soils are not of the highest caliber and the nation is not richly endowed with water, lack of development and a poor agricultural policy are much to blame for the Australian water problem.   Observe:

  Australia has a low percentage of arable land, and yet it utilizes that land very poorly. Australia still thinks of itself as a European nation which just happens to be in the Asia-Pacific region. There'd be no problem with that distinction if Australia had an arable land percentage on par with France (#17, 33.46%) or the United Kingdom (#43, 23.23%). A lot of land is wasted on growing produce that Australians would be better off importing from nations with better soils. Australian grass-fed beef is heralded as juicy and tasty. Nonetheless, raising cattle uses a lot of grasslands and water. Australia's ecosystem would've benefited had Australia concentrated on cultivating meats indigenous to Australia, like kangaroo, emu, and crocodile, which are all healthier meats anyway.

Australia has poorly managed its river systems. The Murray-Darling river is Australia's largest river system and produces 40% of all Australia's agriculture. Much of the infrastructure is 80-100 years old. In 1995,the Murray-Darling Commission set a water usage cap lower than existent usage. It made no sense. The river system has been over-exploited and polluted. Dredging vessels must work 24/7 to prevent the river mouth from silting up.

In many respects, Australia seems oblivious to economic reality. Telling people to conserve on water isn't going to address the real problem. When I was in Australia, I was told about the water shortages, yet when I went to go wash my car on several occasions and in several states, I observed that though the car wash was more expensive than a similar one in the United States, it was only marginally so. The only real way to curb water usage is to charge a price that matches the supply and demand. If water is in severe shortage throughout Australia, a liter of water for use in a car wash should be many times the cost of a similar liter of water in Canada or the United States. It's not.

  The Australian politicians seem to only do what is politically expedient for them at the time.   It reminds me of the gas-oil policy in the United States. In 1973, there was worldwide oil embargo. Prices for gasoline shot up, and there were queues for gasoline. That could have been a warning to change policy right then and develop alternate sources of energy. Australians have known about their drought problem for decades. Immigration policy should have been drafted hand-in-hand with a water policy: how can we be more efficient with our water supplies and develop new ones as our population grows? It doesn't look like enough politicians over the years have really given that problem any thought. In August 2001, Perth water storage levels were at their lowest level since 1962, and Perth's seven main dams were only filled to 26.3% of capacity. Yet in 1962, Perth had a population of about 440,000 and in 2001, that number had grown to 1,325,392.


 

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Computer Comprehensive Companion

 A bushfire in 2006 eradicated 60% of the Grampians National Park. Had the Murray-Darling River been near the bushfire, the fire would've been put out immediately. Too bad, mates. Australia's climate is harsh, and its ancient geography yields very sparse arable land. The picture ain't pretty, mates. Mt. Kosciuszko is the highest mountain peak in Australia, but not all that high, not all that high at all. Australia has a few different weather regions. The tropics are in the far north of the country; the outback is in the center; and the temperate regions are where most of the people live. Temperate areas are the population centers like Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth.