by Joe Fury
(Newman Western Australia)
The build up.
The weather in the north west of our big state is rapidly changing, the relatively cool days and cold nights have all but vanished and are a pleasant memory as now the hot desert winds and late afternoon thunderstorms are becoming the norm.
Travel, off road driving and bush camping are still healthy pursuits even in this period of seasonal change, but you need to be prepared for sudden changes the weather might bring so you would be wise to read the weather from where you are ~ observe the sky, feel the wind and listen to what's going on around you with nature. This last observation might seem weird but as almost all waterholes in the inland Pilbara ~ they are situated reasonably well off easily navigable roads and always deep in the throat of a gorge a fair way up a sizable watercourse.
The weather change seems to occur rapidly especially if your patch of sky is relatively small so the observation of nature is very accurate and most important, as all seed eating birds come to the waterhole, usually quite timid if everything is normal, but they still come in for a drink but much more frenetically if they are threatened by "something" away from their source of water, scrub cattle behave in a similar way but they are a lot less subtle about it.
The weather cycle or change is steering us into our wet season with all the magnificence the northern monsoonal systems tend to unleash on the land, it really is a magical experience ~ devastating for some if they are in the wrong place when it all goes pear shaped ~ just like what almost occurred late on Friday 17th of this month.
The scenario ~ late afternoon thunder storms were forecast, the build up started in the very early afternoon with the sky to the north west over the horizon darkening, the thunder head clouds began building rapidly with visible but horizontal lightening very high up in the clouds, at this point in time it was all visible with no real sounds of thunder, I knew what might be coming but I was hopeful there would be rain but not until I had made it out to the highway, I was only around 4 Kilometres off road and at a waterhole, yes the Finch's were busy but these little buggers are always busy I thought.
I packed the Cruiser in a no rush/panic way, finished my coffee the shot a couple of images just because the light was wrong but just right at the time ~ then there was a crackling sizzling sound in the air and an almost instant sonic boom, sh*t I thought that was close and when I looked up through the trees the sky was an angry grey/black/dirt red swirling thing only mother nature can produce.
That sizzling crackling sound was a lightening bolt making a touch down just over the hill but between the highway and the waterhole the rising black smoke from the burning Spinifex appeared well away from where the track and highway intersect, then the soot and wind borne fire front debris drifted over me and the waterhole.
I made it out to the highway and at no time did I feel in real peril, but in a relatively short time frame, day became night thunder and lightening intensified and the wind picked up markedly, driving the fire at a great speed and sending balls of fire up to twenty metres ahead of the main ground fire to start a fresh blaze to the left of the track.
The Great Northern Highway was busy with several triple trailer road trains pulled up waiting and assessing the situation, it all turned out well for those waiting on the highway and for me too, although I think I've become somewhat complacent with my surrounds.
Safe travels : Joe Fury