Living in Mount Isa has its pros and cons. As a mining city located somewhere in the middle of nowhere, it is shockingly hot. With this extreme heat comes a predictable lack of rain, and after ten years living in Mt Isa, I have observed clouds skirting the city time and time again. Countless theories have tried to answer the age-old question: ‘Why?


By Helena Fricke, 2018 Youth Member for Traeger

Living in Mount Isa has its pros and cons, as does living anywhere in Australia. The community spirit and personal engagement in Mount Isa is amazing. Whether it’s people participating in the Mount Isa Fishing Classic, Mount Isa Eisteddfod or Clean Up Australia Day, it’s more than a place on a map: it’s a thriving community. I love it! However, as it is a mining city located somewhere in the middle of nowhere, it is shockingly hot.

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Clean Up Australia Day: local youths pitching in for the Mt Isa effort

The temperature in Mount Isa throughout the year is approximately 31°C. Whilst this may not sound shockingly hot, the highest temperature in May to date was 37.8°C. Even for Mount Isa residents, this is shockingly hot! Not to mention our summer temperatures, where 40° nights and days roll into each other. The lowest temperatures during winter are 20 – 29°C, which feels like a dramatic weather change for unfortunate residents like myself, who run and grab out our winter coats.

With this extreme heat comes a predictable lack of rain, except for our “wet” season at the beginning of the year. This leaves around 10 months of still, harsh heat scouring Mount Isa. Moreover, when storms or bouts of rain appear in the sky, they tend to travel in a circular motion, skirting around Mount Isa. After ten years living in the Isa, I have observed this time and time again, all the while praying the clouds would open above us. Countless theories have tried to answer the age-old question: ‘Why?’ The most common theory is that the Glencore Mines, and their associated pollution, are inhibiting rainfall.

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A rainfall shortage: Mt Isa on a hot summers day

If you examined the geographical layout of Mount Isa and the landforms surrounding the city, you would note a number of mountain ranges. The most well-known mountain range is the Selwyn Range, located approximately 100km from Cloncurry and 221km from Mount Isa. According to Spinifex State College’s Head Earth Science/Geography teacher, the location of a range such as the Selwyn Range inhibits rainfall in Mount Isa; the rain either becomes trapped by, or directed towards these ranges. This is unfortunate for local residents, causing more dry, hot weather. Upon further research, however, desert dust is also a major contributor to minimal rainfall in Mount Isa.

There is little to no moisture content in the soil, which further inhibits the formation of clouds in remote central Australia. As a result of this inhibition, dirt and dust become drier, creating a feedback loop which further decreases the likelihood of precipitation and cloud formation. This effect is amplified in Mount Isa as there is an abundance of dirt and dust throughout the city, resulting in long-term prohibition of rainfall. Although locals have suggested sulphur dioxide emitted from the mines is a contributor to reduced rainfall, this is in fact not the case. Indeed, sulphur dioxide only exacerbates acid rain when it rains. Thus, it doesn’t directly affect the rainfall quantity in Mount Isa.

So, rest assured: our low annual rainfall is not due to the mine in the heart of the city.  If you are ever considering visiting this wonderful example of outback life, bring a hat, sunscreen and lots of water – you won’t need a bikini or a surfboard, but you will need hiking boots, a swag, a 4WD and a sense of adventure to see some amazing landscapes, with a beauty all of their own.

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