NO MATTER WHERE in Australia you're heading, it’s important to keep an eye on the weather before you travel. Even the cushiest caravan becomes claustrophobic after four days of constant rain.
Warnings are issued over radio, the internet or through local information, covering weather extremes such as strong wind, frost, damaging hail, snow, etc.
All of these conditions should be noted and acted on by travellers.
A strong-wind warning covering the coastal area you plan on driving through should make you reconsider your plans. Light structures like caravans are easily destabilised by strong gusts, especially on exposed sections of highway.
Normally, strong wind systems blow themselves out in a day or two, so if you can postpone your drive you’ll have a safer journey.
Forecast temperature should be a guide to daily activity during a bush trip. If it’s going to be stinking hot, break up your activities so you’re active when it’s coolest.
The day’s weather forecast can also be a good indication of bushfire risk. If you’re camped in a fire-prone area and the forecast favours wildfires, think about moving to a safer position.
When reading up on forecasts, you’ll often hear talk of ‘low’ and ‘high’ barometric pressure zones. Atmospheric pressure is the weight of the air above us, which contributes to weather patterns.
When high and low pressure systems collide, the result is a ‘front’. Fronts usually indicate a change in wind speed and direction, with effects that vary from gentle breezes to gale force.
If you can’t access a weather forecast, have a stab at doing your own forecasting. Cloud observation is a great help.
‘Happy’ clouds are well-spaced, white cumulus that indicate stable weather. If you see high-altitude cirrus clouds, streaked by winds, it can be a sign of a weather change in a day or two. However, in desert areas, high-altitude clouds are frequently seen, without any subsequent weather change.
Cumulonimbus clouds, which often form later in the day, can build up to very high altitudes and are often anvil-shaped. These thunderstorm clouds can produce dangerous lightning and destructive hail.
Learning how to read the weather can improve your planning when camping or travelling. A good place to start is the ‘Learn About Meteorology’ link at www.bom.gov.au
European-style seasons are most pronounced in our two most southern states.
In Tassie, it’s most pleasant from November to March, and you can usually add a month either side on the east coast.
In Vic, aim for October to April for reasonably agreeable weather. When touring the Vic Alps, the temperature drops 6.5°C for every 1000m increase in altitude (the lapse rate), so November-March is preferable.
NSW, SA, SOUTHERN WA, SOUTHERN QLD
The sub-tropical zone has hot summers and cool winters, with average temperatures increasing the further north you go. The inland areas show greater temperature extremes than the coastal regions.
Many travellers consider this zone a year-round destination, though south-west WA, southern SA and the NSW south coast can get chilly from June to August. In NSW’s Snowy Mountains, the same conditions apply as in the Vic Alps.
NORTHERN WA, NORTHERN NT, NORTHERN QLD
These areas fall squarely in the tropics, with daytime temperatures between 25°C and 35°C all year, but you need to consider the wet and dry seasons.
The Wet lasts from December to March, give or take a month. Most unsealed roads are off limits and even major highways get cut by flooding. This is also the time of the worst cyclones.
November to December can be difficult, too, with temperatures in the 30s and high relative humidity. The landscape is parched, the flora is at its worst, and you can’t cool off in the sea due to stingers. That said, the birdlife is prolific, and late-afternoon thunderstorms are spectacular.
The height of the dry season (June-October) is the best for monsoonal regions, with lush greenery and daytime temperatures that most people can withstand.
The dry season up north is also a good time to visit the central Australian deserts. June to August (the southern winter) is ideal. This is peak season, so the popular camping areas may be full, and temperatures at night can drop below freezing due to the dry air.
Steer clear of the Centre from November to March, when daytime temperatures can reach the high 40s in the shade. And the unsealed roads are abandoned, so you could be in real strife if something goes wrong.
WORDS Allan Whiting and Rob van Driesum
Source: Caravan World May 2012