Thunderstorms and giant hail yesterday battered parts of Australia’s east coast after “apocalyptic” dust storms swept across drought-stricken areas, as extreme weather patterns collided in the bushfire-fatigued country.
Australia has since October last year been overwhelmed by an unprecedented bushfire season made worse by climate change.
Swathes of the country have burned, hundreds of millions of animals have died, more than 2,000 homes have been destroyed and at least 29 lives have been lost.
Photo: Jason Herbig / Reuters
Violent hail storms yesterday pelted the capital, Canberra, with footage showing the storm ripping branches off trees.
Emergency services were warning people there to “move cars undercover and away from trees and power lines.”
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology told people in the southeast of New South Wales, including Sydney, to brace for the approaching storm.
“Severe thunderstorms are likely to produce damaging, locally destructive winds, large, possibly giant hailstones and heavy rainfall that may lead to flash flooding in the warning area over the next several hours,” the bureau said.
Two people visiting the Blue Mountains were taken to hospital when a 16-year-old boy was hit by lightning and a 24-year-old man suffered injuries while leaning on a nearby metal railing.
“These people are extremely lucky to be alive,” New South Wales Ambulance duty manager Greg Marshall said in a statement. “One centimeter either way and they would have faced a direct hit which could’ve been fatal.”
They both remain in hospital in a stable condition.
Dramatic images captured over the weekend from western New South Wales show a massive wall of dust rolling through outback towns.
Locals reported being cast into darkness in the middle of the day.
“We are used to the ritual and rush of bringing in washing, turning air-cons off, closing windows and doors, before a big dust storm hits,” said Ashleigh Hull from the rural town of Dubbo.
This one was “more spectacular” than the typical dust storm, she added.
“It was honestly like an apocalyptic movie, a huge wave coming toward us, really quite impressive, but I just wish it actually brought a good amount of rain, not dust,” Hull said.
The southern city of Melbourne was also lashed by huge hailstones late on Sunday.
In the state of Victoria, where bushfires continue to smolder, heavy rainfall overnight was welcomed in fire grounds in the north, but authorities said it also brought with it new dangers.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said that the rain meant “much more dangerous conditions” for those operating heavy machinery to get into areas damaged by bushfires, while landslides complicated efforts to open up closed roads.
The wet weather has brought a reprieve for many fire grounds along the east coast, but authorities remain on high alert, warning that the bushfire season still has weeks left to run.
Experts expect Australia to lose billions of dollars in tourism revenue as a result of the fires.
The government over the weekend announced an A$76 million (US$52 million) recovery package to aid in the tourism recovery.
The number of travelers booking visits to Australia has fallen 10 to 20 percent since the fires began in September.
“This is one of the biggest, if not the biggest — I would say the biggest — challenge the tourism industry has had in living memory,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday.
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