Climate Types in Australia

1. What is climate?
2.
Victoria's climate
3.
Queensland's climate
4.
Precipitation
5.
Natural disasters
6.
Conclusion
7.
Glossary
8.
Links

Australia's climate by region. Click the image for a closer look.

 

What is climate?

The term climate refers to the weather conditions in a region over a long period of time, normally thirty years. Climate is often defined by the average monthly temperature (how hot or cool it is) and precipitation (amount of rain). There are six main climate types. Because Australia is so large, almost all of the climate types can be found somewhere in Australia.

Tropical Arid Semi-arid

The Daintree Rainforest in North Queensland is an example of a tropical climate.

The Australian Outback, which includes Uluru, is an arid climate. Uluru is not red - it just looks red because it is covered in lot of dry, red dust.

Mount Isa in Queensland is an example of a semi-arid climate.
Tropical climates have an average temperature above 18 degrees Celsius and can sometimes become very hot. There is usually a lot of rain for most of the year. The combination of the heat and rain means that these areas are often very humid. Arid climates are usually hot, dry and sunny for most of the year. There is not very much rain, but sometimes there can be a lot of rain for a very short time, which can cause flooding. There are usually very few plants in arid climates as only plants which don't need much water can thrive. Semi-arid are a lot like arid climates because they do not have much rain and are very sunny for most of the year. The main difference is that while arid climates are hot for most of the year, semi-arid climates are usually very hot in summer but can become very cold in winter, autumn and sprint.
Temperate Continental Polar

Perth in Western Australia is an example of a temperate climate.

Beijing in China is an example of a continental climate. The name continental means it is "like the continent". In the northern hemisphere people often call Europe "the continent", so most regions in Europe have a continental climate.

Australia's Macquarie Island - halfway between New Zealand and Antarctica - is an example of a polar climate. It is so cold that no-one lives there!
Temperate climates have an average temperature above 0 degrees Celsius but below 18 degrees Celsius. They are hot and dry in summer but cold and wet in winter. They can also become very humid in summer but are normally very dry. Continental climate have an average temperature above 10 degrees Celsius in the warmest months and below 0 degrees Celsius in the coldest months. They don't normally get very hot, but are very cold and wet in winter, autumn and spring. There will often be snow in the coldest months. Polar climates have an average temperature between 0 degrees Celsius and 10 degrees Celsius, even in summer! There is often a lot of snow and ice. It is too cold for much rain to fall so it is usually very dry.

 

Victoria's climate

Victoria has two main climate types. It is hot and semi-arid in the north-west (as you go towards South Australia and the Outback) but temperate along the coast, including Melbourne. One of the main reasons for this is the Great Dividing Range. The Great Dividing Range is a mountain range which cuts through the middle of Victoria and affects the wind. It stops the dry, hot wind from the centre of Australia from reaching the coast.

 

City January Max. Temp January Min. Temp July Max. Temp July Min. Temp No. Clear days Annual Rainfall
Melbourne 26 C (79 F) 14 C (57 F) 14 C (57 F) 6 C (43 F) 49 648 mm (26 in)
Ballarat 25 C (77 F) 11 C (52 F) 10 C (50 F) 3 C (37 F) 55 690 mm (27 in)
Bendigo 30 C (86 F) 14 C (57 F) 12 C (54 F) 3 C (37 F) 110 514 mm (20 in)
Mildura 32 C (90 F) 17 C (63 F) 15 C (59 F) 4 C (39 F) 132 291 mm (11 in)
Shepparton 32 C (90 F) 15 C (59 F) 13 C (55 F) 3 C (37 F) n/a 452 mm (18 in)
Bairnsdale 26 C (79 F) 13 C (55 F) 15 C (59 F) 4 C (39 F) 60 650 mm (26 in)
Warnambool 22 C (72 F) 13 C (55 F) 13 C (55 F) 6 C (43 F) 53 743 mm (29 in)

 

What can you tell from the table above? Take some time to answer the following questions:

 

Queensland's climate

Just as Australia is a very large country, Queensland is a very large state. As a result, it has many different climate types. In the north, where the Daintree Rainforest is found, it is tropical. In the west, where there is a lot of mining, it is arid. In the south, near the border with New South Wales, it is temperate - with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters.

Using the information above and the table below, see if you can identify the climate type for each city in Queensland.

City January Max. Temp January Min. Temp July Max. Temp July Min. Temp No. Clear days Annual Rainfall Climate Type
Brisbane 30 C (86 F) 21 C (70 F) 22 C (72 F) 10 C (50 F) 123 1,022 mm (40 in)  
Gold Coast 29 C (84 F) 22 C (72 F) 21 C (70 F) 12 C (54 F) n/a 1,273 mm (50 in)  
Mackay 30 C (86 F) 24 C (75 F) 21 C (70 F) 13 C (55 F) 123 1,610 mm (63 in)  
Cairns 31 C (88 F) 24 C (75 F) 26 C (79 F) 17 C (63 F) 90 1,991 mm (78 in)  
Townsville 31 C (88 F) 24 C (75 F) 25 C (77 F) 14 C (57 F) 121 1,132 mm (45 in)  
Toowoomba 28 C (82 F) 17 C (63 F) 16 C (61 F) 5 C (41 F) 114 952 mm (37 in)  
Rockhampton 32 C (90 F) 22 C (72 F) 23 C (73 F) 10 C (50 F) 116 812 mm (32 in)  
Mt Isa 37 C (99 F) 24 C (75 F) 25 C (77 F) 9 C (48 F) 175 462 mm (18 in)  

Why do they mine in arid areas?

Geosciences Australia map of major mineral deposits and mining locations in Australia.

Select two of the minerals shown in the map above and research what they are used for. Do you think the benefit from mining those minerals is worth the impact on the environment?

As you can tell from the map to the left, a lot of mining in Australia happens in arid areas. This is not very fun for the miners, who need to cope with lots of heat and not much water!

Why would the minerals the miners are looking for be found mainly in these areas?

When it rains, water washes the minerals away and they often end up underground. Over time, the water evaporates and leaves the minerals behind, ready for the miners to dig up. Evaporation happens more easily in dry, arid areas, so minerals are very often found in those areas.

When miners try to find minerals in areas which are not arid - like tropical Queensland - it can have a very big impact on the plants and animals which live in the area. The CSIRO have made a video about how mining affects plans and animals in the area.

 

Precipitation

Precipitation is rain, hail, sleet and snow - anything wet which can fall to or form on the ground. 80% of Australia has rainfall of less than 600mm each year, making Australia generally a very dry country. The only continent with less rainfall than Australia is Antarctica, the driest place on Earth.

For rain to fall, water needs to evaporate from the ocean or other large bodies of water. Because of the size and shape of Australia, when water does evaporate from the ocean, it cannot get very far. Mountains like the Great Dividing Range in Australia will stop rain clouds from moving inwards and to get to the Outback clouds need to travel very far, which is not easy when the wind is dry and hot! As a result, there is often a lot of rain near the coast but not very much in the middle or inland parts of Australia, which is a much bigger area.

There are often thunderstorms in the Outback. These thunderstorms are called dry thunderstorms and they occur in most arid areas, like deserts. They are called dry thunderstorms because even though there is water falling, because it is so hot and dry, the water evaporates again before it hits the ground. People hear the thunder and see the fantastic lightning strikes, but very little water comes with them.

 

Natural disasters

With so many different climate types, Australia can experience many different types of natural disasters. In the dry areas where there may be lightning but no rain to go with it, bushfires can be very common. In areas with a lot of rain, floods can happen often.

Two of the most common and most challenging disasters which affect Australia are droughts and bushfires. Often, people believe these only occur in areas where there is not very much rain (arid, dry areas). However, this is not always the case.

A drought-affected paddock in New South Wales.

Drought

A drought occurs when the average rainfall in a region is in the bottom 10% of what is normal for that region. That means that for a region where there is normally 600mm of rainfall, it would only be a drought when there is less than 60mm in three months.

There is normally less rain in summer than in winter. It would be possible to say there was a drought in winter but not in summer even though there was more rain in the winter than in the summer!

Sometimes Australia has had such long droughts that people have had to limit how much water they can use even for things like drinking and showering. Your parents and teachers will all have experienced this.

A bushfire in Victoria on Black Saturday in 2009.

Bushfires

A combination of climate factors mean that bushfires happen in many different parts of Australia. Low humidity and little rain causes plants to dry out. Heat from the sun or an accidental fire can cause the dry plants to burn. Strong winds in most of Australia help the fire spread from tree to tree or bush to bush.

Fires start in bushland and forests all over the world all the time, but the wet weather puts them out quickly. Because Australia is so dry, once a fire starts it is very hard to put it out without help from firefighters. Bushfires can spread very quickly and cause a lot of damage to plants, animals, buildings and people.

Find someone you know who has experienced a drought or a bushfire. If you live in Victoria, this should be easy! Ask them how the disaster affected them or their community. Did they need to move house? Did they need to find a different job?

People's lives are connected to the land on which they live. When a disaster occurs, even if people are not hurt, it can cause big changes to many lives.

Take some time to think about how you would feel if the climate in your area suddenly changed. If you live in Melbourne, a temperate climate, imagine if it suddenly became arid. What would change about your life? What would you need to do differently? Create a T-chart showing what would stay the same and what would change, then write a short statement explaining whether you would prefer to stay in a temperate region or move to an arid region, and why.

People have learned to adapt to living in almost all parts of Australia. In Coober Pedy, where it is very hot and dry, people have built houses underground to stay cool. Indigenous Australians who lived near the coast moved into the desert when European Australians arrived and found many different ways to adapt to the environment. You can learn more about this in the videos below.

 

Conclusion

Australia is a very large country which features many different climate types. Each climate type has its own weather patterns and its own benefits and challenges for the people, plants and animals who live within them, but people have learned to adapt.

 

 

Glossary

coast/coastal - a region near the ocean
dry thunderstorm - a storm with thunder and lightning, but no rain
evaporation - water turning into vapour and moving to the sky as clouds
mineral - a solid, natural substance (like coal, quartz or gold)
precipitation - rain, snow, sleet and hail
region - an area in a country
state - a region within a country with its own government, rules and laws

Links
Black Saturday at Kiddle Encyclopedia
Daintree Rainforest at Kid Zone
Macquarie Island at Kiddle Encyclopedia
Uluru at Science Kids