Australia is famous internationally for blue skies and perfect beach days, and while those clichés are true for some locations they’re not true for everywhere.
But as locals know, every capital city comes with its own clichés. Does Melbourne really have four seasons in one day? Is it always cold and wet in Hobart? And is it 32 degrees in Darwin every day?
The New Daily has spoken to weather experts around Australia to test the stereotypes and ask, does the science support the myth?
Cliché: What the world thinks – perfect beach days every day
True or false: False
From bushfire to thunderstorms, Sydney has had a rough few months. And none of that matches what people who live elsewhere think when they turn their thoughts to Sydney.
The coastal capital has mild winters, but it is in spring and summer that the damaging weather kicks in. Bureau of Meteorologist (BOM) national climatologist Blair Trewin said the oceans to the east and mountains to the west strongly influence the weather.
“In the warmer months, it’s dominated by sea breezes so you’ll typically get sea breezes coming in the afternoon which stops the heat, and you do get moisture coming in from the east with prolonged cloudy spells and heavy rain which can happen at any time of year but is more common in summer and autumn.”
And if blue skies and beaches dominated Sydney’s imagined climate, consider this. Sydney is the second wettest city in Australia, with rainfall peaking in summer and autumn. Conversely, in winter and spring, Sydney gets a lot of sunshine.
A sprawling capital, one of Sydney’s great oddities is that it can vary as much as 10 degrees from the coastal suburbs to the inner west.
“Sydney is a place where there can be very strong contrasts across the metro area because the coastal influences of sea breezes and the like, is much weaker in the western suburbs than it is in the city so its not unusual for places like Penrith and Richmond to be 10 degrees warmer than the city and in winter nights the western suburbs can be substantially cooler than the city.”
The contrast is because of the difference between the land and sea temperature – common up the east coast.
Cliché: Four seasons in one day
True or false: True
You know you’re in Melbourne when you need to pack a sun hat, warm coat, some sunscreen and an umbrella for a day out. The cliché goes that Victoria’s capital experiences four seasons in one day – and the truth? It really does.
Melbourne cops weather fronts from the mainland, the Southern Ocean and Tasman Sea making it a volatile location.
BOM senior forecaster Richard Carlyon said the ocean cold fronts can move quite quickly, which makes the weather changeable.
“What this means is that our weather … varies at lot between hot and cold, and dry and wet, but it keeps it interesting for our forecasters,” Carlyon told The New Daily.
“We are in the space of the cold fronts of the southern ocean so we are more susceptible to rainfall. Also we aren’t that far from Sydney and the east coast and we do get weather systems that develop in the Tasman Sea.”
This means Melbourne doesn’t have frequent, extended heatwaves like other states.
“The only thing Melbourne doesn’t have is hot weather in winter,” Mr Carlyon said.
Or as the BOM spokesperson in Perth said: “It’s bloody miserable there and that’s all there is to it.”
Cliché: It’s always cold and wet
True or false: Half true. It’s often cold, but it’s very dry
When you think of Tasmania’s capital, images of grey skies and chilly days predominate. But while the low temperatures might be true, the science tells us that Hobart is actually Australia’s second driest capital.
BOM Tasmania climatologist Ian Barnes-Keoghan said Hobart wasn’t as wet as people thought. It rained often, but only lightly.
“So if you ask people did it rain, they’ll say, yes I got wet, but the amount of rain that fell was minimal.”
He said Hobart was also susceptible to the same kind of variable weather that Melbourne gets.
“In some ways the four seasons in one day thing applies almost as much to Hobart, particularly in spring and summer,” Barnes-Keoghan said.
The driving force in Hobart’s weather is the wind. Unlike the mainland, Tasmania gets to experience the full brunt of the roaring 40s westerly winds which are strong and damaging over spring.
Those winds bring rain, volatility and the capital’s most extreme weather danger – coupled with hot weather, the wind creates a serious bushfire risk.
During winter, Tassie also gets the super-cold fronts straight from Antarctica, but deep frost and snow is rare due to the changing weather, thanks to the sea, and yep, the winds.
Cliché: Cold, cold, cold
True or false: True
Brrr. The nation’s capital is the only entirely planned city, and at 600m above sea level, and the only inland capital, it’s also the coldest.
It’s similar to Hobart during the day in winter, but at night, Canberra’s temperature drops with fogs and frosts and light snow once or twice a year. And like other inland towns Canberra can be very cold overnight but become very hot during the day.
Surprisingly, national climatologist Mr Trewin said the city’s mean summer temperatures are actually warmer than Sydney and Melbourne – at least by day. But when it comes to the night and mornings, it’s brass monkeys.
“This means Canberra has a bigger range in temperature between summer and winter than anywhere in Australia.”
While it’s cold, Canberra is also quite dry. It has about as much rain as Melbourne with rain spread throughout the year.
Cliché: Steamy and tropical
True or false: Mostly true – it’s steamy and sub tropical
Sunny Brisbane trades the blistering heat of the south for warmth and humidity.
It’s wet and dry seasons are more extreme than Sydney’s but not as tropical as Darwin’s. Surprisingly it doesn’t often get the hot 40 degree plus days of Melbourne and Adelaide. In fact, Mr Trewin said the weather doesn’t often break 35.
While it might be warm, Mr Trewin said there was one extreme aspect of Brisbane’s weather best avoided – the thunderstorms which are common from November to March.
“Even more so than Sydney it has a history of severe thunderstorms particularly in the warm and humid months. It also has a history of floods, it can get extreme, high rainfall and it’s a little too far south for full blown tropical cyclones, it can get large sub-tropical systems which deliver large amounts of rain.”
As we’ve seen in the past week Brisbane can get hit by giant hail, but from 2001 to 2010 it also suffered a drought.
Cliché: Hot , humid, cyclonic
True or false: Mostly true
Beyond crocodiles, Territorians are also wary of the notorious weather season locally known as ‘the build up’.
Like Brisbane, BOM Darwin climatologist Joel Lisonbee said the NT capital has just two distinct seasons – the wet (summer) and the dry (winter).
“The humidity goes up to between 80-90 per cent every day the temperature is in the low thirties, there’s not much wind unless there is a storm and in October and November they don’t happen as often as you’d like.
“It’s really difficult for a lot people who aren’t used to the climate here to get through the build up months, the upside though is that’s when the mangos are ripe.”
When the build-up breaks, it brings rain and relief.
“The reason the monsoon is so inviting is that its been so hot, and finally the rain comes in and its refreshing its not cold like in the south, it feels like a warm shower and its fun to go out and splash in the puddles because it’s warm and fresh.”
During the wet, Darwin can also be hit by cyclones and tropical storms – some of the most deadly in Australian history.
Aside from the mangoes, the best time to visit the NT is during the winter dry.
“Darwin is in the tropics, near the equator so even in the winter months the sun is still mostly overhead, so it never really gets cold,” Mr Lisonbee said.
“Even our coldest day is not cold, it’s comfortable. So the lowest daily maximum temperature was 21 degrees on July 14, 1986 – which is very comfortable.”
Cliché: Unrelenting, dry heat
True or false: True
Adelaide has been quietly building an international following of late, but it’s not just the culture that’s running hot. With a Mediterranean climate, SA’s capital is famous for its blistering heatwaves and dry climate.
Adelaide duty forecaster David House said it was the driest capital city, with low humidity.
“Our two longest heatwaves haven’t occurred in summer – they’ve occurred in November and March, so it’s not uncommon to see, particularly in March, a prolonged period of hot weather.”
The city, like its conservative reputation, is a traditionalist in terms of weather – it’s hot and dry in summer, and cold in winter.
“One of the other things is the winter time is actually quite cool so there’s a big range of temperatures.
“The bulk of the rainfall that Adelaide receives is wintertime. That tops up the dams.”
The reason for this is anywhere north of the city is land, so the only moisture bringing wind is from the south-west.
“That’s coming off the ocean, and is only really the winter months we get a lot of west and south west winds. Having said that, it’s not uncommon to have a big north west cloud band that brings rain just before winter but that has to be a really big system that gets the rain all the way from the north west of WA.”
Adelaide’s other weather force is the Mount Lofty ranges to the north. These bring extra rain and also, gully winds during the summer a welcome relief in hot dry nights.
Cliché: Always sunny and dry
True or false: Both. It’s sunny, but it’s also wet
Perth’s enviable weather can be summed up by the BOM spokesperson’s thoughts: “Oodles and oodles of sunshine.”
BOM’s Neil Bennett said the WA capital has a classic Mediterranean climate with wet winters and hot, dry summers.
While Hobart is surprisingly dry, at 848.3 mm, Perth has a greater annual average rainfall than London, though this is concentrated in winter.
“Typically from November through to mid-March we have very little rainfall, temperatures do get very hot, but unlike Adelaide we don’t get long runs of 40 degree days, we’ll get a couple of days and then the temperature drops quite dramatically.”
The reason for this is the West Coast trough, a low-pressure system which influences the winds coming into Perth depending on its position.
Unlike Adelaide, the easterly and south west winds protect Perth from long heat waves, particularly the “Fremantle Doctor” – a famous south west sea breeze which brings in cooler winds about 2-3pm in the afternoon.
While Perth can be hit by tropical cyclones working their way down the west coast, winter brings its biggest danger – tornados.
“We can get tornados forming on these cold fronts as they are moving through and we can get wind gusts up in excess of 100km/h so that’s where we get our most damaging weather.”
Adelaide and Perth both are experiencing hotter and drier weather.
“We are increasingly noting a downward trend in winter rainfall and we are starting to see really dry spells as well, we’ll notice particular months will be really dry,” Mr Bennett said.
“Some of our driest years on record have happened since 2000.”