‘Rain from the east, three days at least’. Or depending on conditions, ‘wind from the east, three days at least’.
I have heard this semi-poetic weather forecast for as long as I can remember, trotted out whenever an easterly was blowing by those who knew from experience that it was pretty accurate, as well as by those who had no idea but just liked a rhyme and the possible bonus of sounding knowledgeable. But there is a sound meteorological basis for the saying, at least in coastal Victoria.
In Apollo Bay, easterly conditions can be fierce or they can be benign. When there is a very strong easterly wind in the Apollo Bay area generated by a low pressure system which stays put for a few days, with winds continuing to rise and seas becoming wilder and more chaotic by the hour (and of course low cloud and a lot of rain squalls), the locals refer to it as a ‘black easterly’.
Weather from the east is not a fleeting phenomenon like the passage of a cold front, and the pressure systems that generate easterlies do tend to stick around for a few days. The last three to four days in Apollo Bay have seen a pretty typical easterly weather pattern. Stronger winds and rough seas at the start with some thunderstorms in the area, followed by sea fog and fair weather clouds, and eventually calm weather with clear blue skies.
For ocean swimmers and others at Apollo Bay, the easterly wind is not a favourite It can create unpleasant and sometimes dangerous sea conditions, and strong winds, rain and low cloud.
But these photos, all taken at Apollo Bay in the last three or four days, suggest that there can be another side to easterly conditions. Sometimes the three day duration enshrined in the aphorism is simply not long enough.
The maximum thunderstorm experience is directly beneath one (if being airborne directly inside one is not available), where the rain and downdrafts are most intense, the clouds above are the blackest, and the wind gusts are greatest. But there is no doubt the best view of a thunderstorm is from some distance away – far enough to see its full vertical extent, but close enough to see the billowing crisply defined clouds boiling upwards. When this photo was taken there was a barely noticeable south easterly zephyr in the harbour, and this thunderstorm cloud (a mature cumulo-nimbus cloud) could be enjoyed as a visual spectacle. Only a couple of kms from where I was standing was a layer of stratus capping the hills north of Apollo Bay, the result of orographic uplift of the moist onshore wind cooling as it hits the hills. This was not part of the thunderstorm system, despite appearances.
When the easterly wind was a little stronger, it created quite a solid layer of cloud over the local hills. The cloud bases were down around 300-400 feet above sea level. I like the converging curving lines in this image.
Taken from Tuxion beach, this photo shows the harbour wall about to be silently engulfed by the next bank of sea fog drifting slowly across the bay towards it.
When a bank of sea fog reaches the beach visibility is dramatically reduced, and the sun disappears. But it remains humid and warm. Swimming in conditions of thick sea fog is very atmospheric, but when it’s as thick as shown in this photo, at 400-500m offshore (the distance we were swimming offshore on Saturday in the sunshine between fog banks), you would not be able to see the shore at all. The clues which would permit navigation to shore in that event are the wind direction (if there is any), the direction of the swell lines (if there is any swell), and closer to shore the alignment of the ripples in the sand in the sea bed – they parallel the shore. So swimming at right angles to the ripple patterns would either take you to shore, or I suppose if you were totally disoriented, out to sea. But in that case you would notice the water getting deeper and hopefully turn around rather than push on for Cape Patton or points beyond. In spring conditions, given that sea fog conditions are generally calm, you could also just tread water for a while and wait for the fog to roll through until the shoreline of Australia could once again be seen. But you would need to have observed a pattern of relatively speedy transit of the fog banks, because sometimes the fog can sit around for a few hours. While treading water you could listen carefully, and possibly hear vehicles on the GOR which might provide a useful directional hint.
Apollo Bay beach. Blue skies and sunshine between the fog banks.
The next fog bank drawing closer. This photo was taken near Tuxion, looking north-east along Apollo Bay beach towards Wild Dog Creek.
After the easterly- initiating low pressure system has passed, easterly winds continue to be generated by a large high pressure system which usually parks over the south east of the continent and dominates the weather for a few days. The isobars are well apart, producing a very low pressure gradient and hence light winds, albeit still with an easterly set to them. These conditions continue to produce coastal cloud and sea fogs. Dissipating sea fog provided an unusual backdrop to this iconic and much-photographed harbour scene. The hill poking out in the sunshine above the sea fog is about 800 feet above sea level.
High tide in the harbour with sea fog leftovers under the hills to the left, and a new bank rolling in from the right.
As the sea fog came and went, it would appear and disappear in patches, as shown here over Marengo Beach. Even where the air looked clear, there were in fact random patches of faintly visible moisture, producing a beautiful filtered light.
Lizzie on Marengo Beach – a favourite walk in any weather.
On Marengo Beach, this silver gull kept walking away from me, but had his wings outstretched and flight-ready in case the security risk level was suddenly upgraded.
Five hooded plover on Marengo Beach. Some allege they are a threatened species, but according to my reading and observations, they are in plentiful supply. They have a habit of nesting on open busy beaches, which brings them into potential conflict with humans. There was a small group of well-meaning people in Apollo Bay who militantly staked out (with posts and rope) considerable areas of beach and/or dunes, with signs threatening all sorts of nasty consequences for those who did not comply with the directions to stay clear. At one point I contacted one of their number (via his mobile conveniently on the warning sign near the dunes) to challenge a sign which boasted the setting of fox traps in the sand dunes near the mouth of the Barham River, frequently walked through by tourists and by locals, many with dogs. The reason stated on the sign was to protect the breeding hooded plover. It turns out there were no traps and that it was a pathetic bluff. Haven’t seen such signs for a few years so maybe they have backed off with such silly tactics. As far as I can see, there are more than enough deserted beaches along the Victorian coast for the hooded plover to nest and multiply in peace. These five were not the only hooded plover we saw on this walk.
The occasionally visible rearing kelp gardens on the shore reef at Marengo Beach.
More rich kelp beds being rhythmically lifted, waved and lowered by translucent green waves over the shore reef.
A detail from the immediately preceding photo showing a rearing kelp garden in display mode.
With a large high over the state, seas are calm, and sunsets are peaceful. This photo was taken, well after sunset, from the Great Ocean Walk immediately south of Marengo.
A still and clear moonless night should be irresistible to anyone with a camera with an ISO range above 2000, a remote shutter release and a tripod. I drove up into the hills behind Apollo Bay last night and while waiting for the stars to emerge, took this shot of the last light of the day over the ridge to my west. This photo was taken well after official last light.
This image shows both the arrival of night and the final departure of the day. On the ridge in the lower left foreground is a solitary farmhouse. On the central horizon is a large ship making its way east to Bass Strait. To the right is the township of Apollo Bay. In the centre of the night sky are the subtle but clear pinpoints of the Southern Cross lighting up as darkness arrives. Between the vivid oranges and reds of sunset, and the velvety black of night, there seems to be a blue period. There has been no editing of the colours in this photo.
Calm moonless nights and cloud-free skies are a photographer’s delight when it comes to photos of stars and their reflection in water. This was taken from the bridge on the Great Ocean Road which crosses the Barham River near the local footy ground. I was facing east towards the sea. White lines of surf can be seen in the upper mid-frame, just over the dunes. There was some faint light from houses to the left of frame, which illuminated the southern river bank. But it was the reflections of the stars which caught my eye. Even constellations were recognisable in the still Barham waters on this night. On closer examination, the ordinary so often contains the extraordinary. This is one of the perpetual joys of photography.