John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
First it was the extreme heat, now it's horrible drifts of smothering sea lather.
Australia's delayed rainy season has finally arrived in astonishing fashion, with some weather experts calling it the worst monsoon-whipping the continent's eastern shore has seen in 30 years.
This weekend, tornadoes descended to damage 150-plus homes, tumescent rivers flowed through the streets and thousands of people crouched in darkness as power-grids died. And then there's the foam: thick, smothering drifts of nasty-brown ocean lather that piled up as high as 9 feet in places. At this point, Australians are probably begging to have their awful heat wave back.
Let's focus on that foam, though, which is being generated (along with all the other mayhem) by an ex-tropical cyclone called Oswald that's moving toward Sydney. On Monday morning, Australian time, forecasters were warning that Oswald could soon generate winds as high as 60 m.p.h. in New South Wales. That's a lot of power swirling in the air, and it's frothing up tons of organic matter in the water (possibly washed there from heavy rainfall inland). The blenderization of the Pacific is generating clumps of what looks like fluffy, dirty snow – although if you made an angel in this stuff, you'd wind up smelling like the underside of a flatulent elephant seal.
The suds aren't just nasty, painting the sides of buildings with scum that needs to be sponged off. They're posing a traffic hazard, too, as you can see in the above video demonstrating the way not to drive in a full-on foam storm. Quivering mounds of bubbles obscure a road in Sunshine Coast, a large urban center about 70 miles north of Brisbane. That's sufficient cover for an automobile, possibly piloted by a demented sea captain on a grog bender, to creep up on a couple of traffic officers before exploding from the briny cloud like a charging white whale. Expect this guy to show up on 2013's list of Biggest Weather Idiots.
Elsewhere in Sunshine Coast, surf-patrolling lifeguards go about their business in a foam-breaking buggy, as if horizontal sheets of sea-cream is something they deal with every day:
The Foamening, while spectacular this year, is hardly new to beach-faring Aussies. During the summer of 2012, a harsh tempest summoned a terrific army of foam blobs from the dark waters. They glooshed ashore in Lorne, just west of Melbourne, leaving a spumous mark on local history known as "Foam Day":