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Blast from the past - The September 29th 1983 Northwestern Sydney Hailstorm
by Jimmy Deguara

I do recall this day vividly even though I was 15 at the time. The forecast was for the chance of a shower later and a temperature of around 27░C. But when I went outside to wait for the bus, I was confusedů There was so much moisture haze you could not see the mountains and the air felt already warm but calm. To me it reminded me of times when the weather had been unstable and hail had occurred. Of course, I then believed the forecast!

During the day, I noticed the usual cumulus developed particularly around lunch time which would have been around 1pm. The cumulus were tall and leaning slightly east or southeast. The temperature was very warm to hot as the temperature reached 33░C. Just after lunch, I kept peeping through what limited western window views I had and observed a dark base rapidly developing. We had a spelling test as it was English though my mind was not concentrating on the spelling!

The rain commenced with large drops and then got heavier and then someone yelled out it is hailing. I was not the one who noticed it and could not see it so disagreed! I think by the time I had looked out, it may have stopped. Then it began again. But this time I decided to look out the window properly and noticed tiny hail had begun to fall and then it became a torrent. Hail and rain was falling so profusely that it sounded like a roar on the roof. The creek besides the building was almost overflowing. The bell rang for the change in periods, we all went outside to find the hail mounted against the walls up to 5 centimetres in depth. Now, there had been many messages that came over the intercom system during those years but nothing like the one that occurred that day. "Please stay in your classroom. This is a disaster" with an American accent! You did not have many warnings back then. The storm must have lasted between 30 and 40 minutes overall.

I found out later that hail did get up to damaging size with some dents in some of the cars. As the storm must have matured and grew overhead, it must have produced the odd larger hail. The weather at this stage and after school was quite humid, calm and hot. The sun reappeared.

My area of Schofields seemed to have missed the storms from my observations. I looked at the main storm as it retreated eastwards and there seemed to be many residual cells with showers or rain around but isolated. However, it was a developing cell to the north that drew my attention.

This cell was developing rapidly into a nice crisp cumulonimbus. The thick dark almost black clumpy base lead me to believe that this was no ordinary storm. I had never seen anything like it before and perhaps not much since. It was as if a large updraught kept holding the whole mass of moisture. And it remained so until I noticed some sharp cascades breaking through and increasing rapidly. Soon after, it became dense hail shaft.

Now my judgment of distance and direction was pretty reliable in those days and I knew that the lift home from a friend would head right in the path of it. Many thoughts and questions flowed through my mind: "Do I tell her?", "How long is she taking?" I was so excited that this was going to be my first large hail storm I was afraid she might stop and not go through. When she arrived, I just acted as if nothing had happened. I was in the car in a flash and my eyes focused on that base. By this stage, my adrenalin rush was out of control!

It must have been about 3:30pm. Schofields was only about 5km straight distance away. We headed through Quakers Hill and then turned into Hambledourn Road. Large drops began to splatter on the windscreen and a hundred metres or so on, spits of hail. Wow!! I couldn't control myself. I was almost hypnotised. A few hundred metres on, large hail began to pound the vehicle. There was no chance of escape. We stopped on two occasions as the hail with diameters of at least 3cm almost felt like it was going to smash through the windscreen. On the second occasion, you could hear the hail pounding on the corrugated iron roofs even though they were about 30 or so metres away. Cloud to ground severe lightning bolts were frequent and thunder intense but drained out by the preciptation. In between lulls in the hail and torrential rain we would move further and then we saw more sunlight. She drove further towards it and within few a hundred metres, we were out of the storm - to my disgust. There was severe runoff and surprisingly, part of the storm had also dropped some hail in my area of at least 2cm diameter but we were on the absolute edge. There was incredible run off in the gutters on the farm and a couple of windows were cracked due to the hail.

This storm moved east and affected other areas. I do recall this storm being so boisterous as compared to others but not very widespread. Even though this seemed to be the main cluster of the thunderstorm system, large cumulus were still developing into cumulonimbus to the west. These approached during the evening particularly to the south including areas near Marayong. It created a spectacular lightning display. (I heard the next day, that very heavy falls of rain were associated with these overnight storms).

From the next day and over the next few weeks, it became apparent that most crops were destroyed particularly in the path of the storms we had passed through. At Schofields Railway Station (in line with the most severe part of the storm), there was so much hail that it was described by friends as a sea of white. This indicates to me that an abundance of hail which was also larger in diameter had occurred in this region within 1 km straight distance from my residence. Some windows were reported broken and there definitely must have been damage to cars.

What puzzled me for a while was that the area of Parklea received 3 separate hail events that day. I would say that perhaps two storms were from the first cells developing earlier and then the main one passing through later through Quakers Hill. Crops were wiped out here too.

This storm system was spawned by a cold pool of air passing over Sydney and also the unexpected warmer temperatures contributed. Many suburbs in a line from Quakers Hill to Carlingford received large hail at least up to golf ball size. During the forecast of Mike Bailey on Channel 7 that evening, they showed footage of hail pounding the areas near Channel 7, near Carlingford and Eastwood.

This storm is significant as for the first time I had experienced what large hail was like. I will never regret not having told what was going to happen on the way home that day. But whatever you do, don't follow this example as I now am the wiser.

Document: 9907-01.html
Updated: 13th January, 2003
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