Sydney weather: Hundreds call for help as heavy rain, thunderstorms and flash flooding bear down

Georgina Noack, Sarah Blake & Remy Varga
The Nightly
6 Min Read
The rain is showing no sign of easing. Overnight SES crews across the state were called to more than 550 jobs, 7 flood rescues. Residents in those flood prone areas have spent the early hours of this morning sandbagging.

Emergency services in NSW are responding to hundreds of calls for help as heavy rain, thunderstorms and flash flooding bear down on the State.

The SES has received 823 calls for help in the last 24-hours, including three for floodwater rescues.

Since heavy rains started to fall, hundreds of NSW SES volunteers have responded to 1079 incidents including seven rescues.

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NSW SES deputy commissioner Debbie Platz has urged people to avoid driving and said the emergency agency was focussed on five areas in NSW.

“Our main areas of concern at the moment are the Hunter area, the Sydney Illawarra areas and the Central Tablelands,” she told The ABC.

“But as I mentioned that will contract over the coming days and will become a problem for the southeastern area of the State.”

Storm chaos

Trains are facing delays due to damaged equipment at Redfern station in inner-Sydney, while dozens of flights in and out of the city’s international airport have been cancelled.

Power was also cut to a major city-centre court complex after the rain affected local electricity infrastructure.

Transport for NSW has advised people to delay any non-essential travel on the roads and recommends boaters remain ashore as the dangerous storm system travels along Australia’s eastern seaboard.

A severe weather warning is in place along the NSW coast stretching from Morisset, south of Newcastle in the Hunter, down to Bega on the South Coast and extending west to the Central and Southern Tablelands past Oberon and Goulburn.

Severe thunderstorms are possible from the Queensland border south to Wollongong and west to Griffith and Cobar.

Wind gusts could reach up to 90km/h south of Sydney on Friday evening.

A severe weather warning for NSW was upgraded on Friday morning, with some areas of the State forecast to be soaked in up to 300mm of rain as an inland low and coastal trough join forces to bring wet and wild conditions across the east coast into the weekend.

Minor to major flood warnings are in place on the Hawkesbury and Nepean Rivers with moderate to major flooding likely along the Colo River.

The NSW State Emergency Service has 45 warnings in place, including a watch and act for residents of Darkwood on the mid-north coast to prepare to be isolated by flooding.

Further south at Port Macquarie, more than 50mm of rain has fallen since 9am on Friday.

The rain is expected to shift further south, easing throughout Saturday before moving over the Tasman Sea, however flood dangers linger.

Dam to overflow

Authorities have warned the Warragamba Dam, located on Sydney’s western fringe, is due to spill amid the wild weather soaking the city.

The dam, located about 65km west of the CBD, was sitting at 96 per cent of its supply capacity as the storm approached the catchment on Friday and was expected to spill after the rainfall moved on, on Monday.

With more than 100mm of rainfall expected to fall in the catchment — as well as the prospect of releases down the Hawkesbury Nepean River in Sydney’s northwest — it is almost certain to spill.

Warragamba Dam is expected to spill after torrential rain lashes Sydney.
Warragamba Dam is expected to spill after torrential rain lashes Sydney. Credit: Adobe Stock/Steve - stock.adobe.com

Water NSW chief executive Andrew George said Sydney’s main water supply, Warragamba Dam was currently at 96.3 per cent capacity

Warragamba Dam last spilled in 2022, in an overflow that led to devastating floods across the northwest Sydney region of Windsor.

Stay indoors

Residents in Sydney and surrounding areas are being urged to stay indoors as damaging winds and heavy rain sweep through, causing life-threatening flash flooding.

In an update on Friday morning, NSW State Emergency Chief Superintendent Dallas Burnes told ABC News Breakfast the service was “very concerned” with the current rainfall and forecast.

“We’re expecting to see flash flooding and riverine rises, and we’re keeping a very close eye on where those falls are landing to make sure that we’ve got teams ready to respond as needed,” Mr Burns said.

Authorities warned 24-hour totals could top 200mm in Sydney and the south coast, with as much as 300mm dumped on the Illawarra Escarpment overlooking Wollongong.

NSW Premier Chris Minns said it was a significant weather event and it was “very important that everyone in New South Wales listens to the latest broadcast for updated warnings, particularly in your local region”.

Residents were urged to stay home where possible and at least 10 schools were closed for the day due to the “volatile” weather, he said.

“Hopefully this weather pattern will move through metro Sydney and through the NSW south coast in the next few days.”

Sydney faces a 24-hour rainfall total of 200mm.
Sydney faces a 24-hour rainfall total of 200mm as storms unleash on NSW. Credit: AAP

A month’s worth of rain

The Bureau of Meteorology has predicted Sydney could receive as much as a month’s worth of rain in a single day, and warned of the “flow-on effect” of the deluge into catchments south of Newcastle down to the south coast.

“We’re expecting the interaction between these systems to really increase the rainfall over eastern NSW,” meteorologist Helen Reid said.

“We’re going to see widespread rainfall with heavy to locally intense rainfall expected.”

The ongoing intense downpours could lead to “dangerous and life-threatening flash flooding” from Friday evening, NSW’s State Emergency Service warned.

Dangerous winds could topple trees out of the soaked ground and SES crews were being moved into position.

“We’re keeping a very close eye on where those falls are landing to make sure that we’ve got teams ready to respond,” Supt Burnes said.

Flood warning

Major flooding was possible along the Hawkesbury Nepean River bounding Sydney from late Friday, with Penrith likely to cop as much rain in a day as one-and-a-half Aprils.

Transport NSW took the rare step of warning drivers statewide to avoid non-essential travel.

“For those who need to travel, please take your time and plan ahead by checking Live Traffic NSW to see if your route is impacted by severe weather,” a spokeswoman said.

The storm has already claimed a life in Queensland after the body of a man was found by his ute near Logan, while a 30-minute wave of rain in northern NSW flooded enclosures at a wildlife sanctuary on Thursday.

“Due to the amount of water dumped into the park, we have relocated our animals and the hospital (has been) re-located to a higher position,” Byron Bay Wildlife Sanctuary said.

With the catastrophic 2022 Northern Rivers floods fresh in minds, the SES said the silver lining for Friday’s system was that it was moving.

“If we go back to those northern river floods, it didn’t move as forecast,” NSW SES Commissioner Carlene York said.

“It stayed there, it kept dumping the rain and that’s obviously had the big impact.”

Her legion of volunteers have proactively deployed vehicles and vessels into danger areas.

Residents in such areas should clear gutters and tie down loose items ahead of time, Metro Zone Commander Allison Flaxman said.

She urged them to download the official Hazards Near Me app to stay abreast of the latest warnings.

The weather bureau said catchments were fairly wet in the north and average to dry around Sydney and the south coast.

Animals evacuated

Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital has been forced to evacuate its animals, including native birds, kangaroos and emus, amid heavy rainfall across most of the NSW coast.

General manager Russell Mills said the animals were receiving the best of care but said the sanctuary would remain closed for at least the next few days.

“There’s a been a lot of damage to the animal enclosures,” he told the ABC.

Mr Mills said the sanctuary was preparing to receive injured animals injured when the rain stopped and animals started to emerge from shelters such as burrows.

“It’s only afterwards we start to see burrowing animals like bandicoots and echidnas coming in for some treatment,” he said.

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