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Weather from before coal fired power stations — shock — not perfect?

Australians are spending $77 million a week to try to replicate  the stable climate we had with CO2 at 280ppm. So just how ideal was that climate? Newspaper reports of the times were filled with stories of droughts, then floods, bitter cold, and fires that wasted the land. Hmm. Something to aim for then?

And what did the scientists of the day say then? Back before anyone had a hand-calculator or a satellite, the choices were: Orbits, natural cycles, magnetic effects and man’s influence. How times have… not really changed all that much.

Published in 1860 The Sydney Morning Herald.

THE following paper was read at the fortieth monthly meeting of the Australian Horticultural and Agri- cultural Society, on Tuesday evening, by Mr. Robert Meston.


cycles in natural climate variations from 1800's - 1900's - 2000's

If the 60 year PDO cycle is sketched backwards we would expect temps to be cooler in the 1790’s and 1850’s and hotter in the 1820’s and 1890’s.

During the “perfect” climate of the preindustrial era — apparently there were still floods and storms. (?!)

“To begin with British observations. 1697-98-99 were three bad years—years of floods and storms. 1700 proved hot and dry during sum- mer, and 1703 was the last of what are technically termed the seven dear years. 1740 was memorable for its great flood, and was distinguished as the rainy harvest (wetty harvest). 1701-02-03 came in as dear years again. Next 1768, and its great floods, in which year Britain imported 1,300,000 quarters of wheat.   1769 was noted for its mild winter ; 1782 as the snowy   harvest in Scotland, and 1784 as the year of abundance. 1799 brings another great flood, and 1800 a dry year, with wheat 110s. a quarter. 1802 is remarkable for the great shake of September 10th, and severe frost of the 13th following. February 14th of 1811 is recorded as the coldest in a century, the  thermometer falling two degrees below 0. 1822 is famous for a general snow storm, and 1828 as a most abundant year for Scotland, but very dry in England. Then we note 1829 as the recurring great flood, and next mention the three bad years of 1837-38-39, fore- told by Captain McKenzie six years before their advent.

“For hurricanes of wind, the great gale of October 10th, 1838, and of January 8th, 1839, have only been matched by the wind storms on the British coast in 1859. At midday, previous to the gale of 1839, the barometer fell to 26½.

“In course of our flood predictions, reports of floods in 1856 were anticipated years ago over Europe and Britain. Nor were our forebodings unfulfilled. To beg or borrow a term, some of these form the greater   phenomena, and other observers may be able to fill up gaps which, very probably, have been overlooked or omitted in the compiler’s memoranda.

British storms in the 1700s

The Sydney Morning Herald 1860

In the earliest days of European settlement in Australia (circa 1780’s)  there were dry days, then a flood so big in 1806, the writer doubts the accuracy of the height recorded: 97 feet!

“Turn we now to Australia, only in the 73rd year of its nonage ; consequently the greater part of our meteorological observations are only of late registration, as none of these extraordinarv events were written in the chronicles of the chiefs, during the early histories of this colony. Dry seasons for some time prevailed, and the Hawkesbury, by these mighty men of renown, was considered as the king river of the new settlement. Several minor floods have been enumerated, but the great and memorable floods of March, 1806, eclipsed all other known antecedents ; although the greatest height announced of ninety-seven feet, rather sounds problematical, as ” a tale of the times of old”

Then 1815 – 1820, more of that stable climate: The country transforms from droughts to floods then in the 1820’s more droughts, then more floods in the 1830’s, and so on droughts in the early 40’s but floods again in the late 40’s. In 1849, “the country was wasted by fire.”

“1813 to 1815, two years of drought. 1817, a great flood over the then known parts of the country, as far west as the Lachlan. 1820, the first ascertained flood in the Hunter. 1823-4, drought ; only about twenty-seven inches of rain fell on the east coast in twelve months. A veritable person told me, some weeks ago, that a shower had not fallen within the circle of his range, for nearly three years. Blackwattle Swamp quite dry. 1830, high floods generally. 1832, ditto ; in the Hunter particularly. 1837-8-9 droughts again very severe inland. About the end of 1839 and beginning of 1840, general   floods, which began in the south and advanced north. January, great Maitland flood ; also floods in the Namoi and other rivers This year may be adopted as a general flood period. 1841-42 droughts in the northward and interior, but only slightly felt southward. 1848, constant floods in the northern rivers. The Richmond river thrice rose 32 feet between its lofty banks. Nearly ten weeks of rain. 100,000 sheep perished over New England and Liverpool Plains. Very hot and dry about Sydney, Maitland, Port Phillip, &c. 1849, dry, the country wasted by fire. The minimum of 21 inches rain especially distinguishes this season. 1850, secondary  -[text unreadable]- of general floods in the north.

Things were bitterly cold in 1856 in New England: “ice an inch thick” from frosts.

“The winter of 1856 was considered the coldest our oldest residents had ever endured in New England. Ice an inch thick was formed on Beardy Plains by frosts of one night. The whole year was considered rather wet in that district, and so continued until the great floods of the following year ; emptied the cloudy rain-containing buckets. First week of December, called thunder week. The first maximum flood heard of in the season was from Moreton Bav, about May the 20th, 1857.

Then in the early 1860’s, more damn floods.

The Brisbane and Bremmer paid rather unceremonious visits to the folks in Ipswich, who have a hydrophobic antipathy to overmuch water.

After a lapse of about twelve days fell the Clarence flood, which on the sixth of June rose in South Grafton as high as the eaves of many of the houses. The heavy rains began to descend about the second of said month.

Then came the Hunter flood of June 16-17, thus shewing a progression from north to south. About a week thereafter, the skies began to clear ; wind westerly, and long due, as the easterlies had continued constant for nearly nine months.

August 20th—A terrible flood on the Hunter— rather moist in the north, but scarcely any flooding, unless on the Peel. In 1858, while droughts were wasting the western districts, the north enjoyed most refreshing rains. The end of this year remark- able for thunderstorms of local intensity.

1860.—Rain ! Rain ! Southern floods and general rain. In January, it was predicted that rain, more or less, would fall on to the March equinox, and then the weather would clear, two days before or two days thereafter. It settled two days previous, in New England.

History repeats

The meterologists of the day discussed their theories on the climate — basically, orbital effects, natural cycles, magnetic influences, and man-made influences.

Was it a 30 year cycle and did it have something to do with orbits?

“The basis of the McKenzie theory was, that with a lunar cycle of nineteen years, and a solar of twenty eight, when these luminaries occupy the same places within an hour and a half, and relying on their sup- posed influences, he calculated that similar seasons as those which had been experienced fifty-six or fifty- seven years previously would recur again. In connection with this period he also calculated by certain proportionals, (whether aliquots are not well ascertained,) which were termed minor cycles,—9, 17, 28, &c, or thereby being some of them.

“From authentic sources we find that in North Britain, between

1740 to 1768, elapsed . . 28 years

1768 to 1799, elapsed . . 30 years

1799 to 1829, elapsed . . 30 years

1829 to 1856, elapsed . . 28 years

Is civilization to blame? Some suggested it — maybe it was the cows

“Notwithstanding the lamented Dr. Leichhardt’s opinion to the contrary, attentive observers must re- cognise chances, and ascribe some great changes, to the advent of what that traveller was pleased to term civilised society. I appeal to all intelligent flock owners of long standing, and to old hands, where they can be found, if this assertion is not borne out by facts.

“The mutations resulting from man himself directly are in truth infinitesimally small ; yet indirectly, the beast of his pastures, in conjunction with natural cooperations, have in all occupied homes or stations effected many and important alterations.

“How many thousands of water-covered acres are now firmly dry, by surface drainage of cattle tracks alone ? Not a few of said tracks by the washing of running waters have been converted into deep gullies of all widths and lengths. How many of our creeks and rivers are now filled up with sand and gravel to the depth of two, three, or four feet through the washed surface soil, as loosened by sharp-hoofed sheep and treading of horses or cattle. A considerable part of our old waterholes are looked for in vain. The secondary agent of ter- restrial changes, water, when descending with the force of juxta-tropical rams, seizes on the loose soil, sweeps it into the creeks, and this universal leveller deposits the earthy matter in every hole and hollow.

One writer speculates on the forces of magnetism in climate

“Mr. G. A. Rowell, in his theory of evaporation and formation of rain, plainly shews the great part elec- tricity plays in most operations of dame Nature. That terrestrial magnetism produces electric currents few philosophers can doubt. Mr. Faraday says that such is the facility with which terrestiial magnetism evolves electricity, that a single piece of metal could not be hammered—not even moved—without its development. Many years ago I was convinced that all atmospheric changes obtain their origin and increments, for the most part, from the earth ; clouds being only apparent indications of evaporation, electric forces, alterations of temperature, and direction of winds.

Special thanks to Lance Pidgeon (Siliggy), Chris Gillham, and Ian Hill.

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