Something I have been enjoying since moving to Sydney is the frequent rain. I’m really not used to this level of rainfall. In Sydney, there is only one month a year with average rainfall of less than 75mm/3in; in Beijing there are only two months a year with an average rainfall OVER 75mm/3in. One of the first rainy days after I moved on campus was a weekend, and I left my studies to go outside with an umbrellas and splash my bare feet in puddles. It was a bright sunshowery day – so much fun!
I had forgotten about the existence of sunshowers, which I now remember being a big part of my childhood. I often go to a nearby park to catch up on readings for class, and one day I was sitting at a picnic table under a simple roof when a sunshower came through. The space is so open I can see to a low horizon – I watched the storm approaching, saw the mist of rainfall before it arrived at the park, and sat through it until it blew past. I watched waves of rain, like fine curtains, waft toward and over and beside. I stopped reading and turned off my music, entranced by the sight and sound of the rainfall. The sound of the rain on the tin roof above me, the sparkle of sunshine on thousands of tiny raindrops, the squawks of birds delightedly splashing in the rain… it was wonderful. It amazes me how often people here complain about the weather (and just about everything except how expensive things are here!). It’s too hot, too cold, too wet, too sunny, too humid. I can’t believe it! But I’m starting to realise that the window of weather possibilities is so narrow in Sydney that most of the “extremes” are nowhere near true extreme weather. It never reaches the intense muggy heat or bitter freezing cold of Beijing. It never reaches the thick humidity of Cambodian wet season, nor the skin-desiccating dry of Beijing winter. Basically, life in Sydney is just so good that the people living here are put off by weather that is, in the grand scheme of things, incredibly lovely!
That said, there was some truly extreme weather in Sydney and other parts of the state last week. A meterologist called it a “once-in-a-generation [storm] system“. High winds (130km/80mi an hour and more) and huge rainfall (260mm/10.2in in 52 hours) created flash flooding in some areas, cut power to about 200,000 homes, and has resulted in several deaths. The ocean whipped up a record wave of 14.9m(49ft) and sand was blown everywhere. The Hunter Valley, where my grandparents live, was worst hit. My grandparents had “only” 185mm/7.3in in those two days and the town was fine, but the river was very swollen, the highest I’ve ever seen it. A nearby town received double that – at 369.4mm/14.5in it was the biggest drop there since records have been kept. The farm on which my great uncle has lived since he was a baby in 1930 (he’s now 85) was flooded by rainfall alone, something they’d never seen before. (You can see more about the storm here, here and here.) Back in Sydney, it didn’t occur to me at the time that this was particularly “extreme” weather (granted, it certainly wasn’t so bad in our suburb as in other places). Sure, it was windy and rainy, but I quite enjoyed it.
After a few days of rain I heard a lot of people talking about how the lack of sunshine made them feel down – that it had been so dark and dull it was affecting them emotionally. I was amazed!! I am quite aware of the capacity dark days have to negatively affect one’s emotional state. But I would not have called the rainy days of last week a particularly “dark” or “dull” stretch. Days on end without real sunshine has been my normal for a long time. Not only that, but rainy days in Sydney are clean and clear and lovely. The sun might be hidden but the entire environment is so alive! It’s hard to explain just how different a blanket of smog is – it’s not just the shrouding of the sun, but the way that all life is muffled. In a world of smog everything is not only grey, but fuzzy, blurry, and somehow less alive.
A rainy day in Sydney is very much alive with colour and sound and beautiful clouds. There is the sound of rain, the sound of wind, the clear images of trees twisting in the wind, the awe-inspiring sight of lightning arcing across the sky, the loud colours of living plants highlighted in the glistening wet. Not to mention the scent of damp earth, and eucalytpus.
How can anyone not love all that?