Australia battles through its angriest summer with bushfire, floods and hail

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Australia had already suffered through perhaps it’s ‘angriest’ summer on record when hail storms ravaged Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney this week. 

The storms have left at least a $320 million insurance bill – adding to a summer toll that’s seen 29 killed, a damage bill of almost $1 billion from fires, and records broken for rainfall and heat. 

The weather extremes can best be exemplified in Queensland which has faced near record rainfalls, temperatures and extreme fires so far this summer.

The first blazes broke out in October in the Lockyer Valley – months before the normal fire season. 

Mount Isa in the state’s west then recorded 21-straight days above 40C from December 6 to December 27. 

By January, the Gold Coast was under water after a ‘once in 100-year storm’ dropped 300mm worth of rain in just a few hours – turning the city famous for its beaches and water parks into a wetland.

Weatherzone meteorologist Craig McIntosh said summer was often a time of ‘severe weather’, but admitted that the 2019-2020 summer was definitely at the extreme end.  

‘A lot of what has ended up happening across spring and summer with bushfires was set up with conditions in previous years,’ Mr McIntosh told Daily Mail Australia. 

‘Summer is a severe weather season in Australia, so I’d be hard pressed to say that storms we’ve had over the last few days are out of the ordinary. They happen every summer, with some being worse than others. 

‘But the conditions leading up this summer have made it feel worse, it’s been so dry.’ 

The devastating impact of Australia’s horror fire season has been felt across five states since October.

One of the hardest hit areas is along the Victorian and New South Wales border, where a pair of enormous fires combined to create a ‘mega blaze’ stretching for 600,000 hectares.  

At Mallacoota, a small coastal town in the north-east corner of Victoria, about 4,000 tourists and residents found themselves stranded on the beach and had to be evacuated by the Australian Navy as fires closed in.

The fires in the East Gippsland claimed the lives of four people, while another man was killed driving along a smoke-affected Hume Highway in the state’s north.

But the impact of the fires hasn’t only been felt in rural areas, with smoke travelling to Sydney and Melboure hundreds of kilometres away.

The air quality in Melbourne was last week worse than Beijing, while Sydney has for the past two months regularly been covered in smog.

Bushfires claimed 21 lives in NSW this summer, while almost 400 homes were lost in the state’s south-east alone.

After weeks of battling to contain out-of-control bushfires, firefighters were confronted with a new challenge last week – torrential rain.

‘The fire and drought conditions have weakened the vegetation, meaning trees and trees’ branches are going to be much more likely to come down due to wind gust or a bit of heavy hail,’ Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Gabrielle Woodhouse said.

Some children in drought affected areas in the state’s north saw rain for the first time in their lives and while it was welcome, it also came at a cost.

Dubbo – which received a record low rainfall of 211mm in 2019 – was among those predicted to share in the downfall.

But when winds arrived without any precipitation, the town was engulfed in a dust storm that turned day to night.

Incredible pictures show a wall of brown dust moving slowly over the horizon like a tsunami, forcing residents inside and cars to pull over to the side of the road.

Less than 24 hours later parts of NSW and the ACT would be lashed by a wild storm, with hail the size of cricket balls smashing through car windscreens and house windows, while turning the surface of Canberra’s Manuka Oval completely white. 

The Insurance Council of Australia has declared the storms that hit on Monday a ‘catastrophe’, with the bill already at $320 million and likely to rise further.

‘It is certainly a very angry summer and we’re not even midway through the disaster season yet,’ Campbell Fuller of the Insurance Council of Australia said.

Mr Fuller told Daily Mail Australia that 19,500 claims have been already been lodged, including 11,000 in Canberra, 4,000 in Melbourne and 3,000 in Sydney.

The impact of Australia’s wild summer will be lasting with more than 1 billion animals killed by bushfires and some species wiped off the map entirely.  

Kangaroo Island off the South Australian coast lost 200,000 hectares – almost half the entire island – to fire.

Two firefighters were killed, and island’s koala population has been decimated.

Army reservists were sent to the island to help clean up the thousands of carcasses of koalas, kangaroos and other native wildlife.

The Stirling Ranges in Western Australia were also hit by a 40,000 hectare fire, threatening the 87 species of flora that are not found anywhere else in the world.

Conservationists predict the area – which is home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world – could take centuries to recover. 

In good news for worn out firefighters, the wet weather is expected to return after a fortnight of heat across much of the country.

Parts of Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia can expect up to 65mm rain in the first half of February.

However most of Queensland will continue to swelter, with as little as 20mm in some regions. 

 

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