Katoomba’s Phantom Falls

The Blue Mountains worked their magic yesterday morning. The Phantom Falls were flowing, an event which only happens a few times a year when conditions are just right.

To the south of Katoomba is an unusual land formation called Narrow Neck. This is a peninsula which juts out from the main plateau, rimmed by vertical cliffs and extending south for approximately 10 kilometres. At its narrowest point it’s only 50 metres wide. Narrow Neck divides two large and very different valleys, the Jamison to the east and Megalong to the west.

For the Phantom Falls to appear it needs to be a clear, still morning after rain, when there’s plenty of moisture in the air. A layer of fog has formed overnight where the coolest air sits low in the valleys. As the sun rises it warms the air on the eastern side of the Narrow Neck peninsula, slowly dissipating the fog or mist and lowering the air density on that side.

Meanwhile, fog in the Megalong Valley spills over the top of Narrow Neck and pours down the eastern side. Because of the temperature and pressure differential between each side of the peninsula, the fog continues to be sucked across.

The result is a huge moving “waterfall” of mist flowing down the cliff face, then vanishing as it slides down the sunlit valley slope.

According to the information board at Helga’s Lookout, the curtain of moving mist can be 800 metres wide and 50 metres thick, moving at 10–20 metres per second.

Occasionally the Phantom Falls flow in reverse, from the Jamison to the Megalong side, but this is rarer and tends to happen in the afternoon or at night.

All photos were taken on the same morning (6th August 2016). Click to enlarge.

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8 thoughts on “Katoomba’s Phantom Falls

  1. Cathy 7 August 2016 / 7:34 pm

    Awesome photos Carol – as always! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. chrisosborneadventures 8 August 2016 / 1:26 pm

    Nice I’ve only seen this once and I was over near the old Queen Victoria hospital, theirs a few lookout so it was from a distance wish I was much closer it’s a stunning sight.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carol Probets 8 August 2016 / 4:20 pm

      Thanks Chris for commenting. It would be quite a different perspective from the old QVH. Hope you get to see them closer one day as well!

      Like

  3. Bernard J. 14 November 2016 / 1:43 am

    I’ve seen the falls half a dozen or so times, and I suspect that the causative force on each of these occasions was different to the explanation above.

    At just before 7:00 am in late autumn or early spring, when the air is still and the sun’s very low in the east, a gentle southish/sou-westerly breeze has risen and pushed the fog from the plateau. On particularly calm days the fog moves so slowly that it funnels down at the lowest part of the plateau across from Echo Point, in a stream only several hundred metres across, and it pushes clear air in front of it. This front of clear, moving air can be identified by the swaying of the trees in the Jamison Valley ahead of the fog pouring down, and in the initial stages it is very clearly a ‘v’ of clear air in front and to either side of the falls. If the shifting fog was due to a lowering of pressure of the air in the valley itself I’d have expected the distinct frontal band of clear air to be much more diffuse or even entirely absent. Also, the wind that causes it starts a minute or so before the fog shifts from the plateau.

    At least, that’s what I’ve observed in the instances I’d seen the phenomenon. The big difference comapred to Carol’s explanation is that when I’ve seen it the fog has come off the plateau to the south, rather than being slurped out of the Megalong Valley to the west.

    One of the most extraordinary sights though is when conditions are such that the fog is narrowly ‘funnelled’ through the ‘spout’ on the south side, and forms a distinct stream that maintains its coherence as it pours down. The stream moved slowly north toward the area of the Three Sisters, and actually ‘splashes’ up to the level of the lookout at Echo Point, and then subsides again back to the south side of the Jamison Valley where it ‘splashes’ up again against the plateau there, and then zigags north again for a final iteration or two. The whole time the clear air in front gently sways the trees before the fog, and the susuration of their leaves whispers the path of the flowforming fog. I’ve seen this particular version of the falls twice, and it makes the hairs on ones arms and neck stand on end.

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    • Carol Probets 14 November 2016 / 1:12 pm

      Thanks Bernard for painting that beautiful picture. What you describe sounds like a different phenomenon to the Phantom Falls that flow over Narrow Neck. I’ve seen fog lapping around the flanks of Mount Solitary (the plateau south of the valley, i.e. across from Echo Point) but I’ll have to keep an eye out out for the stream of fog flowing down its escarpment and across the valley as you described.

      I love how the Jamison Valley has so many moods – the complex terrain ensures an ever-changing variety of atmospheric effects.

      Like

  4. Bernard J. 15 November 2016 / 12:15 am

    Indeed it is probably a different phenomenon. When I spoke to a local about it they called it the “ghost falls”. I’d assumed that was interchangable with “phantom falls” but now I wonder if they deliberately refer to different things…

    The fog that I saw was very definitely on the southern plateau area; effectively it was low cloud just gently resting on the ground, rather than condensed humidity from near the ground itself, and it rose quite high above the plateau to give a definite ‘banking’ appearance. And on each occasion the Megalong was clear of any fog or mist at all.

    I’m wistfull now that I haven’t seen the phenomenon that you describe – that would be amazing in its own right! It’s been many years since I’ve lived in that corner of the world though, so I might have to consign that to “what might have been”. On the upside, I’m clocking up a ridiculous tally of auroræ!

    Like

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