Southern Sydney resembled a disaster zone on Wednesday after the most destructive winds recorded in NSW history lifted roofs off houses, brought down power lines and trees and left more than 20,000 homes and businesses without power.
The first of multiple severe thunderstorms hit Sydney just after 10:30am, when a tornado-like event ripped through the Sutherland shire region.
The storm’s brunt was felt in southern beachside suburb of Kurnell, which was lashed with record breaking winds of 213km/h, heavy rain and golf-ball sized hail. A trail of destruction confronted residents and State Emergency Service workers on Wednesday afternoon as they worked to remove debris and cut down trees that had fallen across roads, yards and cars…
While on my way down to Wollongong at the time I could certainly see the sky very black over the ocean, but Wollongong pretty much escaped.
Two storm cells travelled up the coast on Wednesday morning, the first reaching Wollongong at 9am and the second around 12.30pm.
Both storm cells skirted the Illawarra with the worst of the second cell passing over the waters off Wollongong.
While Kurnell in the Sutherland Shire was hit with winds as high as 213 km/h, the highest wind in the Illawarra was 91km/h at Bellambi at 9.14am.
Southern Sydney also saw hail as big as baseballs in some places, while strong winds blew over trucks and damaged roofs.
The heaviest rainfall in the Illawarra was recorded at Kiama, with 55 millimetres between 9am and 2pm.
There was a similar but smaller supercell storm in Wollongong early in November.
Here in West Wollongong on Sunday night:
7.20pm: The Wollongong City SES unit says it has received 33 calls for help following this afternoon’s storm, mainly in the West Wollongong and Mangerton areas.
7.30pm: A flash storm front bearing harsh winds, hail and heavy rain brought panic to West Wollongong on Sunday afternoon, with the roof of an apartment block being peeled off like a sardine can.
This is what I saw:
My brother in Tasmania rang last night to check I was OK. We agreed that never in either of our memories had we seen a storm around The Shire like yesterday’s. My brother is 80. There have been storms a plenty, of course, but winds over 200kph? Never recorded before in NSW.
Naturally one wonders if this rare severe weather event is climate change related. No-one can say specifically of any one event, but the likelihood of such things happening does seem to point to climate change’s effects. See meteorologist John Allen, writing in 2014.
Will severe storms become more common?
In a warming climate, results for Australia, the United States and Europe have shown that the the surface air becomes warmer and moisture increases, making updrafts stronger, while the wind shear available to organise storms appear to decrease.
This battle between the elements seems to end with the strength of updrafts winning, and results in more days with stronger severe thunderstorms. Over the east coast, projected increases by the end of the 21st century for Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane range between 114% and 160% of present levels…
It is important to remember that even as the climate changes, our poor knowledge of past events is insufficient to say with any degree of certainty that a severe thunderstorm is beyond what was possible before.
What this change does mean is an increasing likelihood that we will see severe thunderstorms more often, and the question remains as to whether Australia as a nation is prepared to respond.
Yesterday’s storm seen from Sydney Harbour: New Daily