Severe thunderstorms are pelting some regions of Australia suffering from historic wildfires with powerful rain and large hail.
The storms could bring some much-needed relief to the firefighters battling some of the worst blazes the country has seen in decades. But forecasters say it’s not yet clear if the rain will fall where it’s needed most in the coming days, or whether there will be enough of it to make a difference in fire-ravaged and drought-stricken areas.
So far there hasn’t been enough rain to put out the fires, and lightning from the storms has also sparked new blazes.
Authorities are also concerned that a massive inundation could lead to powerful flash flooding, as years of drought have left some regions so dry that rain just runs off the ground. The massive fires have also burned through some of the vegetation that would normally soak up the precipitation.
The Victoria State Emergency Service posted several images on Facebook showing damage from the storm, including a sinkhole 4 meters (13 feet) deep which had opened up.
Parts of Melbourne were hit with as much as 77 millimeters (3 inches) of rain, causing flooding and some damage, the Victoria Bureau of Meteorology said Thursday. CNN affiliate Nine News reported some neighborhoods were hit by a month’s worth of rain in just hours, though not in East Gippsland, where some of the worst fires in the state are raging.
In New South Wales (NSW) to Victoria’s north, more than 10,000 houses and businesses lost power Thursday due to the storm, Nine News reported. But the storms have also helped authorities battle the blazes. The NSW’s Rural Fire Service (RFS) said on Twitter Thursday that “although this rain won’t extinguish all fires, it will certainly go a long way towards containment.”
The RFS had said earlier in the week that if the rain forecasts held true, it could be a panacea for the region’s firefighters.
“This will be all of our Christmas, birthday, engagement, anniversary, wedding and graduation presents rolled into one,” it said Monday on Twitter. “Fingers crossed.”
Relief is here for a number of firefighters working across NSW. Although this rain won’t extinguish all fires, it will certainly go a long way towards containment. This footage was captured down at the Good Good Fire burning near Cooma. #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/fxV9u2hN6K
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) January 16, 2020
Haze blankets Melbourne
The fires that have swept through Victoria and New South Wales all summer are some of the most powerful and damaging conflagrations Australia has seen in decades.
At least 28 people have died nationwide, and in the state of New South Wales (NSW) alone, more than 3,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged. State and federal authorities are struggling to contain the massive blazes, even with firefighting assistance from other countries, including the United States.
All this has been exacerbated by persistent heat and drought caused by climate change. Tens of thousands of people participated in protests around the country last week calling on the government to do more to combat the climate crisis.
The situation is already dire. Significant amounts of flora and fauna unique to Australia have been burned or killed. One group of ecologists estimated that perhaps a billion animals have been affected nationwide. Some towns have been running out of water. Others have gone up in flames completely.
Major cities like Sydney and Melbourne have been spared from the worst damage, but have still been affected.
Both were blanketed in haze from the fires, though the rain appears to be clearing some of it out. Smoke has already affected the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, with officials canceling some of the practices. Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic was forced to retire after having trouble breathing.
In recent years, extreme temperatures have made for tough conditions at tennis’ first Grand Slam of the calendar year — some competitors collapsed or complained of heatstroke at the 2018 event.