A perfect storm in South Australia

• What’s a perfect storm doing down under?
• Unbelievable impact of the storm.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA, IS A STATE LARGER IN AREA THAN TEXAS, but with far less population – just 1.7 million. Furthermore,  it’s a dry state. For instance, three quarters of the state gets less than 10 inches of rain per year. This week the state experienced a perfect storm — the biggest storm in 50 years. Coming from the north, which is unusual, this weather system was on the verge of a hurricane (wind speed 70 mph), and in Australia it was called a mini-cyclone. Mix in a couple of tornadoes simultaneously, and you have a problem.

The system slashed its way across the state, downing around 20 transmission towers in the electrical grid. Damage near Port Augusta and Melrose was critical, and to protect the rest of the grid, the automatic pilots shut down the rest of the state for this reason. That’s right, the entire state blacked out at 4 pm on a weekday, and this lasted all evening!

Up to 20 transmission towers felled by strong winds (click to enlarge or to source, then back-arrow to return to blog article).

About 20 transmission towers were felled by strong winds (click to enlarge or to source, then back-arrow to return to blog article).


Yet, they rarely get tornadoes in Australia. Local resident Cameron Andriskey witnessed the tornado coming through.
It wasn’t like a twister. It was very wide and was just turning in a very fast motion and yeah, it got scary there.

In short, losses to industry may be hundreds of millions of dollars. A lead smelter in Port Pirie suffered losses because the molten slag inside the blast furnace froze. Meanwhile, in a steel-making plant in Whyalla, freezing of iron-ore slurry in pipelines to a pellet plant will take three weeks to fix.

Tornado filmed in the mid-north (click to enlarge or to source, then back-arrow to return to blog article).

Tornado filmed in the mid-north (click to enlarge or to source, then back-arrow to return to blog article).

IN ADELAIDE, PEOPLE RUSHED TO THEIR CARS TO GET HOME THROUGH DRIVING RAIN. But ALL the traffic lights in the city were out (over a million population and larger than Albuquerque and Tulsa combined). It was pandemonium. The emergency generator at the airport didn’t turn on immediately, and they had to ground planes about to take off. My brother was flying in from Perth amid this uncertainty, and his wife was worried when she couldn’t reach him. Then the landing lights came on and they didn’t have to divert his plane. It was awfully bumpy coming in through the storm he said.

Floodwaters cross the road in the mid-north of South Australia. Up to 4 inches of rain fell in some places – a lot for this dry state (click to enlarge or to source, then back-arrow to return to blog article).

Floodwaters cross the road in the mid-north of South Australia. Up to 4 inches of rain fell in some places – a lot for this dry state (click to enlarge or to source, then back-arrow to return to blog article).

MY FAMILY AND FRIENDS HAD PLANS THAT EVENING TO DINE OUT. But all the businesses across town shuttered their shops and restaurants, meaning enormous total business loss. Only the big hotels had their own generators. My family were able to book a table for eight at one hotel. The hotel was packed with people like herrings in a can, but the food was good, and the camaraderie was catching, as happens in times like this perfect storm. Returning home, it was very eerie driving for 20 minutes through total darkness, except for occasional headlights of an oncoming car. They said it felt like the end of the world.

The prime minister of Australia came on TV next day, and curiously blamed the renewables for the blackout. He acknowledged that South Australia led the nation in renewables. Windmills are everywhere in the state and provide over 40% of the state’s electricity. He seemed to argue that such a high proportion of renewables would be unstable, and that was why the electrical power system shut down everywhere…..the windmills did shut down for their protection, one area at a time.

The PM’s statement created an outcry from many thinking people who support the need to reduce carbon pollution in order to stave off dire effects that are predicted by 2050 if global warming continues. For more info on future effects of global warming click here  (then hit back-arrow to return to blog article).

An ominous Hurricane Sandy entering New York in 2012.

An ominous Hurricane Sandy entering New York in 2012 (click to enlarge or to source).

AFTER A RECENT 10-YEAR DROUGHT, global warming and climate change are more accepted in Australia than in the USA. A 10-year drought will change a person’s opinion! For example, that this perfect storm could be a sign of more outliers to come is not such a crazy notion in Australia.

In recent years, severe weather outliers have occurred in the USA, from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 (damage $150 billion) to Hurricane Sandy in New York in 2012 (damage $32 billion) to the floods in Baton Rouge in 2016 (which was described as a 1,000-year flood by the experts).

IN REGARDS TO GLOBAL WARMING, SOME AUSTRALIAN STATES HAVE SET HIGH GOALS FOR RENEWABLES’ SHARE OF ELECTRICAL GENERATION. South Australia is at 41% and aiming for 50% by 2025. Victoria is at 12% and aiming for 40% by 2025. Queensland is at 4% and aiming for 50% by 2030. New South Wales at 8% has no target. West Australia at 12% has no target.

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The Gray Nomad
Probing the practices of Christian faith

And God said See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the land, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. To all the animals on the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the ground, to everything in which there is the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food. And it was so.  God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good and He approved it completely. (Genesis chapter 1, Amplified Bible).

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Mary Ann Pollock
Mary Ann Pollock
7 years ago

Great blog Ian. Since I was there it was very scary. Thanks for sharing the story with everyone.

Bob Moulton
Bob Moulton
7 years ago

Hi Ian,
I live at Melrose in the Mid North of South Australia and experienced the fury of the ‘perfect storm’. My wife was driving home and was caught in the worst of it – with hailstones the size of golf balls and winds up to 120kph (75 mph). Our region is generally spared the pain of meteorological and geological extremes, although we have experienced many severe bushfires which are usually caused by lightning strikes in the warmer months. No volcanic eruptions as yet from Mount Remarkable!

This storm was different to anything I have experienced in my life and the demolition/disabling of 22 towers (several just a couple of kilometers north of our property) created a major power outage which left South Australia in a very vulnerable position for many hours. One person cynically suggested that the towers were made of Chinese steel! Power was not restored to our property for 49.75 hours. Mobile phone (cell phone) towers lost their power supply and subsequently failed which created a further concerning dimension to this event.

Your readers will be interested to learn that the coal-fired Port Augusta power station (about 70 kilometers north of Melrose) was shut down permanently several months ago without any replacement energy source. This previously provided about 40% of South Australia’s electricity. Our State government appears to have a fixation on clean energy – which is OK to a degree-but we are now heavily reliant on electricity generated in Victoria by (you guessed it) a coal-fired power station.

This extreme weather system has also been accompanied by very heavy rainfall – up to 8 inches (200mm) in some parts of the State – which has caused extensive flooding, ruining horticultural crops in market gardens north of Adelaide and inundating many homes.

The Premier of South Australia (who accepts no responsibility for any problem) appeared to be extolling the virtues of a system which automatically shuts itself down to protect itself without accepting responsibility for the fact that our State was placed in a vulnerable position for many hours because the clever people advising government had not made provision for an extreme weather event. I believe the electricity grid should be divided into independent regions where a power failure in one region does not create a total domino effect for the whole of South Australia.

I guess this is a simplistic view but I, and all of the State’s population, want some answers before the next extreme weather event. I believe there are indications that global-warming is having a major impact on weather conditions in many countries, and the adoption of renewable energy is a priority, but it must be in a measured and systematic process that does not create vulnerability to the inhabitants.

Compared to the “twisters” that are experienced in USA, our storm was minor, but with major consequences. God help us if we get a “biggie” !!

Barbara Leachman
Barbara Leachman
7 years ago

The whole creation longs for redemption, as do we all.
Romans 8:22

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