Bad weather: How to avoid getting into trouble

Anita Pavey — 27 February 2015

It has barely clocked over into 2015 and Mother Nature has already served up two king hits. Firstly, searing hot weather and high winds that contributed to horrific bushfires across the Adelaide Hills. Described as the worst fires since Ash Wednesday in 1983, the fire burned a total area in excess of 12,000ha, wiping out many homes, stock and wildlife in the process.

From one extreme to the next, the latter stages of the wildfire was doused by flash flooding caused by a monsoonal front travelling south across the continent. Then there’s the sandy river bed of the Todd River in Alice Springs, NT. While normally dry, it’s flooded after more than 100mm of rain, the heaviest rainfall for 30 years. And the forecast has more to come!

Dealing with weather changes firsthand

This inundation reminds me of a trip we were on in 2010. We were touring in the Tvan, enjoying some beautiful remote camps in the Flinders and Gammon ranges in South Australia when the weather went bad. We had just crossed the Balcanoona Creek with plans to skirt around the northern arc of the Flinders Ranges and on to the desert tracks.

What started as a few spots of rain soon became worse, with the drops increasing in size, smattering against the windscreen at increasing frequency and force, the wipers barely keeping pace.

The red dirt roads soon became a greasy mess and it didn’t take our mud terrain tyres long to become choked with mud, increasing the risk of slipping off the crown of the road and into a ditch in a less-than-graceful pirouette.

While our initial plan was to try to outrun the rain, with conditions worsening we decided to retrace our steps to the Balcanoona ranger’s station. Calling out on the UHF radio using the duplex mode, we were able to get onto the ranger who was caught behind fast flowing, rising water further south. He advised us to backtrack to the ranger’s station and bunk down at the shearers’ quarters for a few days until the creek levels subsided and the roads improved. When we arrived, the surrounding landscape was covered in water and the water raging down the swollen creek was quite frightening.

A few days later, once the flow had subsided, we retraced our steps south.

Avoid the riverbeds!

While scouring the passage of the watercourse for a safer crossing, we were joined by a backpacker couple in a rental Troop Carrier who had camped in a riverbed, only to be awoken by the sounds of lapping water. Needless to say, you should never camp in a dry river bed. Should the flow of water be strong, you could easily be swept away or be seriously injured by floating debris.

Creek and riverbeds should be relatively easy to pick. In an otherwise dry landscape, the presence of mature gum trees is often an indicator where water once flowed. Don’t be drawn in by the attraction of shade either, as gums can often drop big boughs without warning. Although a riverbed may be dry, floods can happen in a matter of seconds and devastate your campsite, causing injuries and lost equipment.

The expectations of safety once we hit the bitumen were short-lived. It, too, had been inundated with mud at various points, although contractors were busy piloting graders and other equipment to help make the area safe. All in all, it was a rude awakening to the risk of floods when touring.

Safety tips for outback travelling

  • Always carry an AM radio and suitable aerial to tap into weather reports.
  • Never camp in a dry creek or riverbed.
  • Don’t risk driving on closed roads.
  • Be prepared to wait it out. Don’t take unnecessary risks by being in a hurry.

The full feature appeared in Caravan World #535 March 2015. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month! 


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