Australian Winters: How Cold Can They Get?

I’ve just spent a short weekend, as opposed to a long weekend, (just Friday afternoon and part of Saturday) down at Kingscliff, a seaside town in northern New South Wales. This is how it looked on the Saturday, that’s Saturday, 1 July 2017. July is, of course, the middle of winter here in Australia.

Here are some pictures I took of Kingscliff on that Saturday afternoon as I walked around in my T-shirt and shorts…

Kingscliff

Kingscliff

Kingscliff

Kingscliff

Kingscliff As you can see, it was quite a pleasant day, certainly bright and sunny, although I wouldn’t have called it hot. As I strolled along the beach the temperature was around 17°C, so closer to ‘cool’. Yes, I know, I’m getting soft; been spoilt by 10 years of the Queensland climate. According to the stats, the actual maximum temperature on the day in Kingscliff was 18.3°C.

Not bad and certainly not cold.

So imagine my surprise when on Monday morning, as I read news.com.au, I see talk of cold snaps, one town recording its coldest temperature for 110 years and the NSW Fire and Rescue Service warning people not to light up their barbecues indoors because it’s so freezing.

Yes, barbecues are an outdoor thing only.

So let’s crunch some of the numbers and see just how cold it can get in winter in Australia.

How cold can Australia be?

In the town of Deniliquin in New South Wales, population 7500 or so, the temperature fell to -5.6°C on the Sunday morning of 2 July, the lowest temperature recorded in 110 years. Deniliquin is about 285 kilometres north of Melbourne. And while we are mentioning Melbourne, in the CBD on that same Sunday morning the low was 0.8°C.

Cold enough, I would have thought, to have to scrape ice off of your car windscreen.

In the nation’s capital, which is Canberra remember, on the Saturday temperatures got as low as -8.7°C, and they had three consecutive nights with temperatures below -7°C for the first time in 46 years. Sydney was much warmer at 5.4°C, although in some parts of west Sydney temperatures almost dropped as low as a shivery -2°C.

Minimum temperatures by Australian capital cities

So to help answer the question of how cold can it get in Australia, with the help of weatherzone, here are the minimum temperatures recorded around our eight capital cities on the morning of Sunday, 2 July 2017:

  • Sydney 5.4°C
  • Melbourne 0.8°C
  • Brisbane 7.6°C
  • Perth 6.0°C
  • Adelaide 8.8°C
  • Canberra -8.2°C (yes, minus)
  • Hobart 1.1°C
  • Darwin 20.7°C (yes, still hot)

But of course, those are all temperatures taken on Sunday, 2 July 2017. What we want to know is…

How cold can it really get?

OK, let’s go round the same capital cities and this time see the lowest temperatures ever recorded there in July:

  • Sydney 2.2°C in 1861
  • Melbourne -2.8°C in 1840
  • Brisbane 2.6°C in 2014
  • Perth 0.0°C in 1997
  • Adelaide 0.4°C in 1982
  • Canberra -10.0°C in 1971
  • Hobart -2.8°C in 1981
  • Darwin 10.4°C in 1942 (Mate, I’m going to need to buy some socks!)

It doesn’t stay cold all day though, when the sun comes out, it does warm up quite nicely. On the same Sunday, Hobart was a coolish 11° with Canberra a little warmer at around 13°. It was 14° in Melbourne and Perth, and about 17° in Sydney and Adelaide. Here in Brisbane it was around 20°, but today it was a much warmer 25°C. Not bad for winter.

Of course, Darwin, as usual, just doesn’t have a winter at all, they simply have a dry season. Up there it was around 32°.

Alright, alright, I can hear you, this isn’t really answering the question is it? This is just the capital cities, and in the month of July, how cold can it really really get in Australia? So…

How cold can it really really get in Australia?

I found a page on members.iinet.net.au where they list the highest and lowest recorded temperatures for many places around the world. Here’s what they said about the states and territories in Australia:

  • NSW: Charlotte Pass -23°C on 29 June 1994
  • Victoria: Mt Hotham -12.8°C on 13 August 1947
  • Queensland: Stanthorpe -11.0°C on 4 July 1895
  • WA: Booylgoo Springs -6.7°C on 12 July 1969
  • SA: Yongala -8.2°C on 20 July 1976
  • Tasmania: Shannon -13.0°C on 30 June 1983
  • NT: Alice Springs -7.5°C on 12 July 1976
  • ACT: Canberra (well, it is the only place there) -10.0°C on 11 July 1971

Cold, yes, but apart from Canberra, Alice Springs and Stanthorpe, pretty much nobody lives in these places. Yongala has a population of around 240 people, I’d be surprised if there are another 240 people in the other four places combined. Charlotte Pass is a ski resort in the Snowy Mountains, it has an elevation of 1837 metres.

No wonder it’s cold there!

How does that compare with England?

On the other hand, the coldest temperature ever recorded in England (well, since 1961 and before October 2012) was in a small village called Shawbury in Shropshire. It has a population of around 3000 people and an elevation of just 68 metres. I know what that’s like, my house here in Australia is on a hill and is a very similar height above sea level.

No sign of snow outside my front door yet here this winter.

According to blog.metoffice.gov.uk, Shawbury recorded a temperature of -25.2°C on 13 December 1981. Yes, I know, colder than Charlotte Pass, the coldest place ever in all of Australia, which is a ski resort where nobody lives.

I also found this interesting infographic showing the average minimum temperatures around the UK on 14 January, statistically the coldest day in winter in the UK…

Coldest dayView larger version (via Glowing-Embers.co.uk).

So how cold can it really get in Australia? Not as cold as it does in the UK. No surprises there then.

What about the US?

They out-cold both Australia and the UK.

  • Prospect Creek in Alaska recorded a temperature of -62.2°C (-80.0 F) on the 23rd January, 1971.

And if you think that’s cheating because it’s Alaska, how about:

  • Rogers Pass in Montana which recorded – 56.7°C (-70.0 F) on the 20th January, 1954 or…
  • Riverside in Wyoming who recorded -54.4°C (-66.0 F) on the 9th February, 1933.

Gosh, that is cold.

Bobinoz: stating the bloomin’ obvious.

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{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Melynda October 1, 2017, 7:09 am | Link

    Come on now why not include Canada in the comparison if your going to mention the equally beautiful US? 🙂
    According to wikipedia the coldest place in Canada was in Snag, Yukon at -63°C (-81.4°F) on February 3rd 1947. I’ll admit I was surprised the record wasn’t held by a town in Nunavut! Also just for fun the hottest place in Canada was in Yellow Grass, Saskatchewan at 45°C (113°F). Coldest I’ve personally experienced is a solid -38°C a couple years ago in Quebec City and I made the mistake of going outside with my hair still wet from the shower and yes it did freeze!

    • BobinOz October 2, 2017, 11:27 pm | Link

      Canada? Where is that? Let me get my map… 🙂

      Okay, seriously, glad you have provided this information for us, no surprises that Canada’s coldest ever temperature is colder than the others mentioned here on this page. -63°C is pretty cold, but being as you started it, the coldest temperature ever recorded in the world, according to NASA, was in August 2010 when it hit -94.7C (-135.8F) in Antarctica. Of course, nobody lives there, but they do live in the Russian village of Oymyakon which is known as the ‘Pole of Cold’ apparently, and the coldest ever temperature recorded there was -71.2C. So not much different from what the good people of Snag, Yukon experienced in February 1947.

      Here in Brisbane, the coldest it ever gets is around + 4 or 5°C at a time when I’m comfortably snuggled up in bed, most of the rest of the day it’s pretty warm to very hot.

      I’m not surprised your wet hair froze at those temperatures, I would have thought your face would freeze when it’s that cold, wet or not. 🙂

  • Yvonne Bartley August 9, 2017, 1:04 am | Link

    Hi Bob,
    thanks for all this useful information. I’ve lived in Oz some 30 years back and I’m seriously thinking about moving there again, at least for a spell. 🙂
    Here’s a very interesting link, since you seem to be hyper-interested in the weather. 😉

    http://www.climatecentral.org/news/history-global-warming-animation-21670
    Cheers,
    Yvonne

    • BobinOz August 9, 2017, 9:19 pm | Link

      That video almost hypnotised me 🙂

      Thanks for the link and may I be one of the first to welcome you back, if you decide to come back that is. Cheers

  • Warwick July 6, 2017, 1:18 pm | Link

    It is interesting that the ABC, the government media organization, makes a big song and dance every time the temperature is a bit elevated in summer.
    We are assured that this is the sign and reality of global warming.
    But they never make a comment when we have exceptionally cold days or an exceptionally cold spell.
    They are zealous global warming propagandists but lousy journalists.

    • BobinOz July 6, 2017, 7:44 pm | Link

      Yes, really hot days make much better news items, gotta keep that gravy train going. It’s interesting if you click on the members.iinet link in the above article and take a look at some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded on this planet.

      Here in Australia it was Oodnadatta, South Australia 50.7 C (123.3 F) on the 2nd January, 1960. In Europe it was Seville, Spain 50.0 C (122.0 F) on the 4th August, 1881 and in the US, Death Valley, USA 56.7 C (134.0 F) on the 10th July, 1913.

      1960, 1881 and 1913. And we have global warming now?

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