A four-day downpour across Australia’s east coast has brought relief after months of devastating bushfires and years of drought, but also widespread storm damage and forecasts of more wild weather to come.
The weekend drenching represented the biggest sustained run of rainfall in Sydney and surrounding areas for 30 years, dousing some bushfires and replenishing depleted dams across New South Wales, the country’s most populous state.
Some rural areas received more rain in recent days than they had in the entirety of the past year – a startling and swift turnaround from the bushfires that have killed 33 people and ravaged large parts of the east coast.
Bushfire warning signs were almost swamped by floods in several areas as the weekend rainfall cut power to tens of thousands of homes, caused travel chaos in Sydney and closed scores of schools for the start of the week.
Almost 400 millimeters (15.8 inches) of rain fell in the Sydney area and surrounding areas. The Warragamba Dam, which supplies about four-fifths of Sydney’s water, jumped from about 40% to above 60% full in just over a week, the state’s water authority said, shoring up water supplies for the city of 5 million.
The NSW Rural Fire Service’s Sydney headquarters has been reconfigured to respond to floods and storm damage because of the rapid shift in the weather threat.
The weekend rain extinguished some of the worst bushfires in NSW, including the Gospers Mountain ‘megafire’ in the Blue Mountains and the Currawon blaze on the south coast. Each burned for months, together razing more than 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of bushland and destroying hundreds of homes.
In contrast, flood evacuation warnings have now been ordered for parts of the Conjola region, authorities said, where deadly fires razed dozens of homes on New Year’s Eve. Thunderstorms are forecast for NSW and neighboring Victoria state in the coming days.
The rain has put some much-needed moisture into parched land months out from the all-important wheat-planting season which is crucial to the fortunes of Australia’s biggest crop.