Wednesday, March 4, 2009

And then the rains came...

Monday was a reasonably nice day here in Melbourne. The weather was warm but not excessively hot and the air was still. I spent the day at my daughter's Kindergarten playing in their sandpit, singing songs, eating lunch at miniature tables and taking in the view from a four year old's perspective. We had a full day and when we returned home, the routine of dinner, bath, bed time took over and I had little time to think about the weather or the news. Then at some point my mobile phone beeped indicating I had a new text message. I picked it up and read the following:

Extreme weather in Vic expected Mon night & Tues. High wind & fire risk. Listen to Local ABC Radio for emergency updates.

Amazing. A text message sent directly to my phone to warn me of an impending storm and increased fire danger. I have always been impressed with Australian bureaucracy's ability to adapt and change quickly. There was great debate following the Black Saturday fires as to whether or not an official warning system could have saved some of the lives lost. That was a mere three weeks ago and now when faced with similar weather conditions Victorians were receiving these alert messages on their mobile phones. Whether these messages reached the appropriate targets or were the appropriate medium will be debated in the aftermath, but for now, I'm just bloody impressed they organised themselves so quickly.

When the Handsome Australian arrived home, he also brought news of impending storms and gale force winds bound for Melbourne. He spent a bit of time gathering up loose items in the back garden and storing them in garage so they wouldn't become dangerous projectiles. I collected the laundry from the clothesline noting the deep orange sunset and the absolute stillness of the air that surrounded me. It was really still. I had a sinking feeling. Was this the calm before the storm? That text message I'd received earlier had given me a real foreboding feeling. I'd seen the damage that a fierce wind and fire cocktail can produce--our whole community is still reeling from Black Saturday. I shuddered when I thought of the news I might wake up to the following morning.

Back inside, the evening rolled along and each time I looked out the window the trees sat there silently. No rustling, no swaying, just still. I started to wonder if the warnings were all a bit of hype. I headed off to bed and drifted off to sleep. I was woken a short time later by the sound of the wind whistling through the trees outside, the branches scraping against the window panes. It was really, really windy. I had a difficult time falling back asleep as I thought of the winds and the fire and the people whose homes and lives might be in danger.

On Tuesday morning, the winds were still whipping around outside. It was a blustery day. In many ways it reminded me of the desert southwest in the USA where I spent my youth. Sand slapping you in the face as you walk down the road, bits of rubbish blowing along. The only thing missing was the tumbleweeds. I suppose it should have been comforting, this weather. It should have reminded me of my roots and where I'm from. It's not pleasant weather, but it is so typical of my hometown. On this day though, every gust made me cringe. I found myself hoping against hope that we wouldn't see a repeat of Black Saturday.

On the whole, the news on Tuesday from the fire fronts seemed to be stable. There weren't any fires jumping containment lines and the fire fighters seemed prepared. It was just a bit of a waiting game. Then Tuesday evening, the winds picked up again and really whipped about. The Handsome Australian and I were sitting in our lounge room listening to the wind howl, when something unexpected happened. It began to rain. It wasn't just a light rain either. It was a good hard rain. The Handsome Australian and I looked at each other and simultaneously let out sighs of relief. Finally the rain has come. I can't remember the last time it rained here in Melbourne.

The rain fell off and on all night and we woke to gray skies this morning. The kids and I had to wear jackets most of the day as the temperatures have cooled right down. The rain continued to fall throughout the afternoon and early this evening. On my drive home tonight I was tuned into ABC Local Radio when the news broke that one of the major fires that had been threatening the towns of Warburton and Healesville had officially been contained. The text messages from relieved residents of that part of Victoria were coming in thick and fast and the ABC host was reading them out. Some people had evacuated 3 or 4 times during the last 10 days as the weather and the fire menaced their communities. Psychological exhaustion has reigned and this was the first good news these communities have had in what seems like a long, long time.

Let's hope this is the beginning of the end of this bush fire season.



KLS said...

I'm glad to hear you finally got some rain! We had a drought for two years, but seem to be getting a lot more precipitation this year.

suzinoz said...

Thanks KLS. We are heading into our 9th year of drought so any rain is a welcome sight but more so now with the fires.

Rita said...

I think my rain dance helped :)

suzinoz said...

In that case Rita, I think you should do it again.