Aussie Snow Myths – Are the Lilly Pillys Predicting a Good Winter?

May 13th, 2010

Does a full Lake Eyre mean a good snow season? Images v3Travel/Harro

Words :: Aaron Cook, Meteorologist

A couple of weeks ago published my thoughts about the sort of winter and the amount of snow we can expect in 2010.

But although we meteorologists walk around like we own the weather, when it comes to forecasting conditions more than a week ahead we’re not so confident. Maybe the best you could say is we know how much we don’t know.

We got talking in the office about the all of the myths and legends about snow forecasting that float around the ski community, and we decided to have an open-minded look at some of the more interesting folklore for the Australian Alps.

By far the most common snow forecasting myth is the one about Lake Eyre being full. Lake Eyre is of course a huge inland sea in South Australia that only fills in years when extreme rainfall swells the rivers of Southwest Queensland.

Some people claim that when Lake Eyre is full evaporation from the lake is picked by passing weather systems and dumped as snow on the Australian Alps. The problem is, the Bureau of Meteorology has run simulations to see whether this extra moisture really contributes to extra snow and the conclusion is that there’s not enough water to make a measurable difference.

But that doesn’t mean the myth is completely busted. Even if moisture from Lake Eyre isn’t causing extra snow, there could be some underlying pattern that causes both a full Lake Eyre and good winter snow. Lake Eyre is full this year, so if the myth is to be believed we’re in for a good year.

Another great source for winter forecasts is indigenous folklore. People have been listening to nature for over 40,000 years in Australia, and there are plenty of signs to look out for.

Frances Bodkin, Indigenous Education Officer at the Mt Annan Botanic Gardens in southwest Sydney told me to keep an eye on the meat ants. Each autumn when it starts to cool down the ants renovate the outside of their nests, by changing the colour of the rocks. If they change to very dark rocks, which soak up more heat from the sun, a cold winter is on the way. Why don’t you let us know what are the meat ants doing in your neck of the woods this Autumn?

Bodkin says that plants also tell a story. For example, if the Lilly Pilly trees don’t fruit then a cold winter is on the way. This was the case this summer past, but this might have had something to do with heavy rains when the trees were flowering.

Brad Spalding, long time ski instructor and one time director of the snowsports school at Thredbo and owner of the Wild Brumby Distillery looks for stick insects during summer. If they’re out and about, like they were last summer, good winter snow is on the way.

There’s also an old bushman’s tale floating around that says if the female Kangaroos aren’t ‘presenting’, that is, making themselves available for mating, they know a cold winter is on the way and they don’t want to be carrying a joey around. So are the lady kangaroos looking frisky or frigid on your side of town?

It’s impossible to say whether any of these signs have merit without testing over many, many years. To make matters worse, we know our climate is changing, which may be changing the rules of the game. But so far Lake Eyre, the stick insects and the Lilly Pilly trees are all pointing towards good snow this year. Who’s to say it won’t happen?