Canberra weather: Coldest start to winter in 33 years as airlines 'de-ice' planes
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Canberra weather: Coldest start to winter in 33 years as airlines 'de-ice' planes

While most Canberrans avoid the pre-dawn chill in warm beds, airline engineers are awake spraying a layer of ice from their planes in the sub-zero cold.

The city's near-nightly frosts this winter would delay flights but for an orange fluid that washes down the aircraft at Canberra Airport before take-off.

De-iceing work on the Qantas aircraft at Canberra airport in sub-zero temperatures.

De-iceing work on the Qantas aircraft at Canberra airport in sub-zero temperatures. Credit:Karleen Minney

In mid-winter, engineers turn their hoses on the planes most mornings each week to stop ice from adding weight to the aircraft and changing how air flows over the wings. But this season's unusual chill may have them working harder.

Canberra's having its coldest start to winter in 33 years, and meteorologists say it's averaging minus 2.1 degrees overnight - well below the long-term average hovering at zero.

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An engineer removes ice from a Qantas aircraft at Canberra airport in sub-zero temperatures.

An engineer removes ice from a Qantas aircraft at Canberra airport in sub-zero temperatures.Credit:Karleen Minney

A run of dry weather explains the cold. In 2016, Canberra's gauges recorded about 197mm of winter rain to mid July, more than the 70mm average. This year, only 12mm has fallen, a 'whopping change' in the words of Weatherzone meteorologist Brett Dutschke.

It's the driest start to winter for the ACT in nearly 40 years. Without cloud cover, the city's nights have been cooler than usual, and its days have been warmer.

Engineers started removing frost from their planes - or 'de-icing' - in April, and expect to keep going until November. The exercise isn't as simple as a bottle of water and a scraper over the front windscreen.

Airlines send them out in cherry pickers to spray up to five aircraft with a heated, gycol-based solution that removes ice and stops more from forming when the temperature has dropped to between minus 3 and minus 1, or lower.

De-iceing work on the Qantas aircraft at Canberra airport in sub-zero temperatures.

De-iceing work on the Qantas aircraft at Canberra airport in sub-zero temperatures. Credit:karleen minney

The Prime Minister's Boeing business jet and a plane for guests of the Australian Government are among many sprayed down before a ride-on sweeper machine vacuums leftover fluid from the apron into an in-built reservoir.

Once they're airborne, the aircraft channel hot air from their engines through small tubes beneath the metal of the wings to stop ice from forming at high altitude.

Despite the cold start, the engineers and other Canberrans at work in the morning chill can look forward to a change soon.

Mr Dutschke said Canberra will stay dry for the rest of winter, but signs pointed to warmer temperatures towards its end, particularly at night.

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*Weatherzone is owned by Fairfax Media, publisher of The Canberra Times.


Doug Dingwall is a reporter for The Canberra Times covering the public service and politics.