Sydney Tornado: Powerful Storm System Brings Damaging Winds To Australian City

A tornado touched down in Sydney, Australia, Wednesday morning (Sydney time), causing moderate damage and sending at least three people to the hospital, News Corp Australia is reporting.

At about 10:30 a.m. Sydney time (about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday evening Eastern (U.S.) time), a strong storm system moved into the Sydney area, bringing high winds, torrential rains, and baseball-sized hail into the city and surrounding communities. A tornado was then spotted near the Sydney airport, before moving out to sea.

In the Sydney suburb of Kurnell, a 40-year-old man suffered head injuries and was taken to a hospital. At least two other people are known to have been taken to area hospitals due to the storm, as well. Also in Kurnell, 7,000 businesses are without power, and two major businesses -- a desalination plant and an oil refinery -- were evacuated.In the nearby town of Illawarra, at least 6,000 homes are without power, according to Sydney Morning Herald. At least 20 fire and rescue crews have been dispatched to help throughout Sydney, and State Emergency Services has responded to 200 calls for help.

Alan Sharp, a meteorologist at Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, confirmed that a tornado did, in fact, strike the Sydney area.

"There is obvious evidence that we have had a tornado go through Cronulla today. There were gusts of 213km/h recorded at Cronulla and it was obvious from our radar that there was a tornado in that area. So conditions are ripe that they could still occur with any more storms that sweep through your area."
The strong weather system is wreaking havoc with airline travel not just in Sydney, but all across Australia, says Leonie Vondezen, spokeswoman for Brisbane Airport Corporation.
"Sydney's weather has disrupted the entire national flight network. Sydney is Australia's major international airport but, with weather like this, we expect flights to continue to be diverted throughout the rest of the day to avoid Sydney's weather."
Passengers on a Virgin Australia flight were forced to wait on the tarmac at the Melbourne airport before finally being allowed to disembark. A Virgin spokesperson apologized for the incident, but also warned Australian travelers to expect further delays and cancellations as the weather system plays out.
"As a result of the storm activity in Sydney as at midday, Virgin Australia has delayed flights in and out of Sydney Airport until conditions improve. We will continue to keep our guests updated with emails and text messages and hope to have them on their way as soon as possible."
Back at the Sydney airport, traffic is backed up so badly that passengers have gotten out of their cars to walk to the airport, although it's almost a certainty that whatever flight they're attempting to get to is either delayed or cancelled.Tornadoes are unusual in Australia, but certainly not unheard of. The Land Down Under sees about 60 tornadoes per year, on average, with about 10 to 20 occurring in populated areas. By comparison, the United States, which is similar in size (geographically), sees about 1,000 tornadoes each year, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information.

This is a developing story; more information about the Sydney tornado, and its aftermath, will be provided as it becomes available.

[Image via Shutterstock/Jason Ho]