Snow Fell on SydneyJune 24, 2014

The Southern Hemisphere enjoys a cool winter during this time of the year. Temperature in Sydney goes as low as 8 degrees Celsius. Some locals may wonder if they will ever see the Sydney Opera House covered in icy snow. They may not live to witness that day, but winter took place in the capital of New South Wales on June 28, 1836.

"About seven o’clock in the morning a drifting fall covered the streets, nearly an inch in depth ... a razor-keen wind from the west blew pretty strongly at the time and altogether, it was the most English like winter morning … ever experienced," reported The Sydney Herald.

Snow rarely reached the coast of Sydney, but on that day, the unexpected happened. Colonisers didn't think it was another Ice Age, but there was trepidation. Many wondered if it was a sign, but children were said to be oblivious, delighted to create snowballs and playfully throw it. There were a few more reports of snowfall, which happened during different times of the twentieth century. But they were unsubstantiated, and none as positive as of 1836.

Not surprisingly, the record in snowfall all took place in the Northern Hemisphere. (Mount Rainier in Washington had the most in a one-year period, from 1971 to 1972, while Mount Baker, part of the Cascade Volcanic Arc, had the most in one season, from 1998 through 1999. The largest snowflake ever observed was in Fort Keogh, Montana, on January 28, 1887.)

Anyone expecting something unusual in the climate this year may be a bit disappointed. One must remember that there's no land mass connecting Australia and Antarctica. (Moist air is needed, and in the case of Australia, the warm waters of the Southern Pacific prevents it to create snowfall.) Then there's the recent autumn, the warmest in forty years, the maximum daily temperatures about four to six degrees Celsius higher than normal. This was experienced in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the southern inland Queensland from the period of May 8-26. Sydney saw nineteen consecutive days of 22 degrees or above, surpassing the record of nine days that took place on 1978 and 2007.

But twenty centimeters of snow blanketed the upper slopes at Snow Mountains, much to the delight to the tourists who couldn't wait to ski.

"We had lovely falls up at Perisher over the weekend ... 15 centimeters fell up there and they're very happy. They've opened some of their lifts," Kerry Coomber, manager of the Snowy Region Visitor Centre, said.

The unusual warmth last autumn was a sign of El Niño coming, a warm oceanic phase which accompanies high air surface pressure in the western Pacific. Whether this will means heavy rainfall in Sydney - and the rest of eastern Australia - in the coming months remains to be seen. But those want snow must head up to higher ground. There are lots of snowbound peaks near Sydney, Snowy Mountain being one of them.

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