Michael Thompson's Australian Storm Chase Diary
Thunder Downunder 2005 - Day 5, 29th November 2005
Mackay to Rockhampton, QLD
All photos clickable for larger size

Golfball to chicken egg sized hail ( measured up to 6cm, but probably stones to 8cm ) litter the road near Mackay - only 21'S latitude - in the tropics.

Chaser Michael King reflects on a huge storm on the coastal ranges, probably near ...well nowhere..I'm serious.

Today a new surface trough line was establishing over inland Queensland. This was allowing tropical moisture to creep back overnight to cover most of coastal Queensland. With cooler than normal middle to upper layers the day was set for some very un-tropical storms. The tropical Queensland coast is actually not as storm prone as most think, for much of the spring and early summer the coastline is affected by a semi permanent high pressure ridge that ridges up the coast from the Tasman to the Coral Sea. When however the ridge is absent and dewpoints are over 20C ( like today ) watch out !

Our first storm of the day was in the hills behind Sarina, congestus simply exploded all over over the place into storms. We headed out of the hills and found a larger storm just west of Mackay. We were proceeding to get to the inflow of this storm when it let go a large microburst. We expected some strong winds, heavy rain and perhaps some lightning. I heard a large thump on the side of car and dismissed it for a small branch, the next thump was a golfball sized hailstone. At first the stones were well scattered although very large, shortly after the hail increased and I pulled over. Jane O'Neill and Clyve Herbert proceeded onwards and Jane's is now the proud owner of many large dents in her Subaru Forester. I grabbed the three largest stones I could reach without fully exiting the car and they went between 5 and 6cm on a ruler. We saw larger stones that I estimate may have been 7 or 8 cm. The hailstones were irregular and gnarled, but very hard, The two stones I ate could not be crushed with teeth. All of us knew hail did fall in the tropics, contrary to the belief of some, but none of us expected such large hail.

After this experience we decided to put down some serious kilometres in preparation for tomorrow when the action should be further south as the trough deepened. We choose the Fitzroy development road, this road afforded us views of several large storms over the inaccessible coastal ranges. The Fitzroy development road terminates at the town of Dingo, one of those frontier type towns - I believe it is where cattle roadtrains have to split up into smaller units like B-Doubles.

We ended the day in Rockhampton. A storm developed about 50 kilometres south of Rockhampton at around 11pm producing a strobing lightning display and many clear air discharges, however we were all too exhausted to go and chase it.

The first strong congestus towers go up west of Sarina
A closer view of a very strong storm - note the powerful flanking line.
The small but very lightning active storm that developed just south of Rockhampton The number of clear air discharges was unusual. I should have drove a little outside town, rather than take these from pratically the motel parking lot.
Some arty type shots presented themselves late in the day on the Fitzroy Development Road  
  Before the storms developed we visited a local beach. Hot, sunny, clear water, coconut palms, but....... crocodiles, marine stingers and sharks, hence no swimming.