Why smoke is lingering across the Hunter

Smoked Out: A plume of smoke from a bush fire at Ferodale, seen from Nelson Bay. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.
Smoked Out: A plume of smoke from a bush fire at Ferodale, seen from Nelson Bay. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

Cough, cough, splutter, splutter.

The Hunter feels like a giant ashtray at the moment. Smoke is everywhere. At least, that’s how it seems to us.

In our suburb, smoke has been polluting the air for days.

But it’s not just our area. We’ve noticed it across Lake Macquarie and Newcastle. And we’ve been told it’s in other pockets of the Hunter as well.

If it’s not hazard reduction burns, it’s proper bush fires, sending plumes of smoke through the sky that seem to be lingering for a lot longer than other years.

We asked the Bureau of Meteorology what was going on. Was there some unusual weather system trapping the smoke for longer than usual? 

Meteorologist Gabrielle Woodhouse put the smokiness down to strong temperature inversions and a lot of smoke.

Usually,  the temperature of the atmosphere cools as height increases above the surface of the Earth.

An inversion is the opposite of that. That is, the further you travel from the surface, the warmer the air becomes.

“That has a stabilising influence, which means smoke near the surface will be trapped below the warm layer,” Gabrielle said.

Are you still with us? Hang in there. This is interesting, scientific stuff. And who doesn’t like to talk about the weather? Usually, we restrict such small talk to “gee it’s hot”, “gee it’s cold” or “gee it’s smoky”.

But if you listen to Gabrielle, you’ll be able to take those weather chats a tad further.

Gabrielle says that inversions form overnight on most nights.

“Once the sun rises, that inversion starts to break. That’s why in the morning, it tends to be more smoky,” she said.

Hang on, though. Smoke has been lingering all through the day and into the night.

The reason for this, Gabrielle says, is that sometimes inversions are stronger than usual, which means they take longer to break.

“That’s where the issues arise from having all those smoke particles hanging around in the atmosphere,” Gabrielle says.

Sometimes, though, inversions aren’t to blame. Sometimes when there are loads of fires or particularly big fires, the sheer quantity of smoke means the stuff will linger for longer regardless of the weather.

Random Rock

A mysterious rock-type thing outside Newcastle Entertainment Centre.

A mysterious rock-type thing outside Newcastle Entertainment Centre.

We were walking outside Newcastle Entertainment Centre on Tuesday night, when we noticed this strange rock thingy in a car park. We’re pretty sure it’s serving some kind of purpose, but we’re not sure what.

Can anyone enlighten us? Tell us at topics@theherald.com.au.

Band Names

We wrote on Monday about a trend on social media of wrecking a band name with just one letter.

Here are some more examples from Blas Fredericks: Leo Slayer, Fozzy Osbourne, Alice Pooper, Bruce Springsteel, Ricky Marlin.