Weather News

What is 'virga' and why does Canberra keep copping it?

Anthony Sharwood, Wednesday January 13, 2021 - 10:40 EDT

Canberra is known for hot air of the political variety. But with parliament in recess over summer, hot air of the literal kind generally takes hold of the capital, and that often makes for some interesting weather effects.

Like virga.

Like what?

"Virga is simply precipitation that evaporates before reaching the ground," Weatherzone meteorologist Ben Domensino explains.

"It's more likely to happen away from the coast, where the air near the ground is often drier."

Canberra media personality, naturalist and tour guide Tim the Yowie Man snapped this fantastic image of virga from Mt Rogers in Belconnen on Tuesday evening, with the city's signature Black Mountain Tower to the left.

Image: Virga rhymes with burger and now we're hungry. Source: Tim The Yowie Man.

"In summer, we often get virga in the Berra," he told Weatherzone.

"You look at the radar and it appears as if a big storm is coming with lots of rain, but when it passes over, the moisture has evaporated before it hits the ground!

"It's great to sit on the verandah and watch the 'dry' storms pass over. Frustrating for the gardeners, though!"

This reporter spent a couple of years working in Canberra during the millennium drought of the 2000s and can report that virga was indeed a regular and frustrating occurrence for anyone who was trying to maintain a manicured lawn – especially under a regime of severe water restrictions, as there was back then.

Canberra is doing fine for water at the moment. Dams are full after a year of rainfall which was 25-45% above average across the ACT. And there have already been five rain days in 2021.

So for once, the gardens of our dry bush capital are not desperate for rain in the height of summer.

But there's still something frustrating about virga. When the dry summer heat descends upon Canberra, and the storms from the Brindabella Ranges seem to run out of juice as they cross the city, locals still watch in frustration as the curtains of rain fail to reach the ground.

At least virga makes for some beautiful images, especially when the curtain of rain catches the pink evening glow.

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