Australia’s Crazy Weather: From Floods to Fires

Lightning storm

On November 2018, a storm dumped over 100 mm of water on Sydney and other regions in southern New South Wales (NSW). The emergency services in NSW were kept busy, answering over 500 calls for help, including 12 flood rescues. Meanwhile, in the state’s northern neighbour of Queensland, firefighters were battling over 130 bushfires.

The Floods

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, Sydney received most of the 105.6 mm of rain within two hours on 28th November, just under the city’s average rainfall for the whole month. Ann Farrell, the bureau’s state manager, told reporters ‘That’s the sort of rainfall you’d expect to see once every 100 years’.

Luckily, the downpour started before the morning rush hour, when rapidly rising water levels could have trapped many more commuters. Public transport stopped and the police advised drivers to stay at home.

“We are asking all road users to reconsider the need to be on the roads throughout what will be a severe rain event,” advised Michael Corboy, NSW state assistant police commissioner. Despite the warnings, dozens of vehicles crashed and a 14 year old boy was killed in a car accident related to the extreme weather conditions. A NSW emergency service volunteer also died whilst on duty and two police officers were seriously injured when assisting a stranded driver.

The combination of the deluge and winds gusting up to 90km/h resulted in Sydney airport delaying or cancelling 130 flights after it had to shut two of its three runways.

Australia’s leading electricity distribution network, Ausgrid, cut power to 8,100 homes and businesses in Sydney and the Central Coast region, north of the city. After the flash flood subsided, 3,250 customers remained without electricity as the damage was assessed the following day.

Buildings were also vulnerable to the storm, with panels ripped from roofs and basements submerged as drainage infrastructure could not cope with the quantity of water. After the destruction, many people were busy salvaging their belongings, making repairs, clearing out the water-logged debris with self-priming trash pumps and checking their insurance coverage.

The Fires

The neighbouring state of Queensland was experiencing weather of the opposite extreme. Unlike the Sydney-based population being warned to stay at home, up to 8,000 residents of Gracemere, 600 km north of Brisbane, were being ordered to evacuate. Temperatures approaching 40oC and gusty conditions over dry vegetation were fanning bushfires towards the city. The state’s fire danger warning was raised to its highest level of ‘catastrophic’ for the first time as firefighters battled the flames.

The Irony

Umbrella heavy rain

Despite the chaos of the flash floods in Sydney, the rains provided some relief to farmers suffering from the prolonged drought. Earlier in the year, NSW suffered from a dilapidating drought. The Bureau of Meteorology confirmed that with only 57 mm of rainfall, Southern Australia had the second driest autumn since records began. Its continuation through the winter made the drought the worst in living memory in eastern Australia, with many areas of NSW classified as suffering ‘intense drought’.

With NSW producing 25 per cent of the country’s agricultural produce, the state’s Minister for Primary Industries had exclaimed, ‘there isn’t a person in the state that isn’t hoping to see some rain for our farmers and regional communities’.

The crazy weather conditions in Australia are feared to occur more often as the consequences of climate change play out. Although the causes are contentious to some, and obvious by others, the increasingly ruinous weather extremes throughout the globe cannot be ignored.