BUSTED: Weather experts have taken on one of Gladstone's favourite legends.
BUSTED: Weather experts have taken on one of Gladstone's favourite legends. Centro Art

Dome Sweet Dome: Cracking Gladstone's favourite myth

IT'S ONE of the most enduring rumours in Gladstone - and it's easy to see why it sticks around.

Every wet season brings the same old story. The radar shows a massive storm system heading our way, the Bureau of Meteorology issues a warning, and then... nothing.

The "Gladstone Dome" strikes again.

The dome, the rumour has it, consists of toxic chemicals from Gladstone's heavy industries hovering over the city, breaking up storm clouds and keeping wet weather at bay.

Dylan Charlesworth, Environmental Science lab manager at CQUniversity, has lived in the port city for 11 years.

He's heard it all before.

"There's a few rumours around town, and this one is... pretty common," he said.

"Gladstone's one of those towns where if something goes wrong, some people tend to say it's because of industry. But then you go to places like Townsville (where) there's not as much industry there - and they also (talk about) a 'dome'.

"There's no real tangible scientific evidence that I'm aware of to back up these rumours, to be honest."

Townsville indeed boasts its own dome - and it's far from the only town to do so.

The same myth persists in Hervey Bay, Gympie and Warwick, to name just a few.

 

WEATHER GURU: The University of Queensland's Dr Joshua Soderholm.
WEATHER GURU: The University of Queensland's Dr Joshua Soderholm. University of Queensland

Dr Joshua Soderholm, a research scientist at the University of Queensland's School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, says it goes even further than that.

"I think every city in the world has that myth," he told The Observer.

"When they think about their 'dome', people tend to remember when they didn't have a storm, rather than when they did. There's a bit of psychology involved.

"A lot of it comes down to the hit and miss of storms. You see them coming from 50km away, but they're actually only a few kilometres across.

"The probability it will actually hit where you live is always quite low."

 

As far as the credibility of the theory itself, aerosols from industrial plants such as smelters or coal power stations were not produced in a high enough volume to have any kind of deterrent effect on clouds, according to Dr Soderholm.

"If anything, people actually use aerosols of that size to seed clouds in some experiments - so if anything, they're probably more likely to increase rain," he said.

"Mostly that (pollution) stays trapped in the lower parts of the atmosphere, so it's down near the ground - we've got more things to worry about than what it does to the weather!"

Data from the Bureau of Meteorology also backs up the assessment of the experts.

The Gladstone Radar gauge recorded a total of 983.2mm in 2017, similar to the 963.2mm recorded at Rockhampton and 1147.3mm in Bundaberg in 2016 (the most recent data available).

 

BUSTING THE MYTH: Experts disagree Gladstone industry is responsible for the odd missed storm.
BUSTING THE MYTH: Experts disagree Gladstone industry is responsible for the odd missed storm. Mike Richards

Historical data also shows no significant change in the rainfall recorded in Gladstone decade-to-decade, with the Gladstone Radar Alert receiving:

  • 663.4mm in 2006 (before the Curtis Island LNG plants were constructed in 2014)
  • 630.2mm in 1997 (before Rio Tinto Yarwun was constructed in 2002)
  • 698.4mm in 1987 (before Orica Yarwun began production in 1990)
  • 967.2mm in 1977 (before Boyne Smelters was opened in 1982)
  • 770.2mm in 1967 (the year QAL began production, and before Gladstone Power Station began operating in 1976)

Dr Soderholm said there was a real explanation for why storms seem to avoid Gladstone - it just didn't happen to be that exciting.

"You'll often see storms weaken as they approach the coast," he said.

"The closer you get to the coast the cooler it gets, because of the sea breeze. Storms need that hot humid air mass, particularly up in Central Queensland.

"Imagine a boundary of cold air - storms like running along the leading edge of that boundary.

"So sometimes they'll latch on to that and deviate to where they're actually heading."



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