There is a certain amount of misunderstanding about the Top End’s tropical climate, usually summed up as the hot and humid “Dry” and the hotter and very humid “Wet”. Give or take a couple of weeks either way, this is the pattern: the Dry begins in April when rains stop and humidity decreases – although this always remains high, whatever the season. The bush is at its greenest, and engorged waterfalls pound the base of the escarpments, although it may take a couple of months for vehicle access to be restored to all far-flung tracks. From April until October skies are generally cloud-free, with daily temperatures reliably peaking in the low thirties centigrade, though June and July nights might cool down to 10°C – sheer bliss for unacclimatized tourists.
From October until December temperatures and humidity begin to rise during the Build Up. Clouds accumulate to discharge brief showers, and it’s a time of year when the weak-willed or insufficiently drunk can flip out and “go troppo” as the unbearable heat, humidity and dysfunctional air-conditioning push people over the edge. Around November storms can still be frustratingly dry but often give rise to spectacular lightning shows. Only when the monsoonal Wet season commences at the turn of the year do the daily afternoon storms rejuvenate and saturate the land. This daily cycle lasts for two months or so and is much more tolerable than you might expect, with a daily thunderous downpour cooling things down from the mid- to low thirties.
Cyclones occur most commonly at either end of the Wet and can dump 30cm of rain in as many hours, with winds of up to 300kph. Frequent updates on the erratic path and intensity of these tropical depressions are given on the radio, so most people are prepared when a storm hits. Some fizzle out or head back out to sea; others can intensify and zigzag across the land, most infamously in the form of 1974’s Cyclone Tracy, which pulverized Darwin.
And if further proof were needed that the Top End’s weather patterns warrant more distinction than merely Wet and Dry, know that the region’s Aboriginal groups traditionally recognize no less than six distinct seasons.