Australian Wildfires Update: Rains Bring Serious Threat Of Flash Flooding

An aerial view as rain begins to fall on drought and fire-ravaged country near Tamworth ahead of predicted further wet weather across NSW and Victoria this week on January 15, 2020 in Tamworth, Australia
Brook Mitchell / Getty Images

In recent weeks, Australia has been hit by some catastrophic wildfires. A section of New South Wales (NSW) has been burning for some time and a significant portion of Victoria is also on fire. Now, rains have hit the area which, while welcome, brings the risk of a new problem: flash flooding.

The rain arrived on January 15, local time, sweeping across the state of Victoria in a deluge that was welcomed by residents after daily hot weather reaching more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) was consistently seen across the state prior to that. This rain front hit the Victorian wildfire area late on Wednesday and bought some relief to the fire-affected region. It has also fallen in some areas in New South Wales that needed it.

The NSW Royal Fire Service (NSW RFS) issued an update via Twitter regarding the fires after the arrival of the rain late yesterday.

“As of 8:30 a.m. this morning, 85 bush and grass fires are burning across the state, with 30 to be contained. All fires are at Advice. We are starting to see some good falls across some firegrounds. Let’s hope some of our farmers are also getting some moisture.”

While the rain will help with firefighting efforts across the states, there are fears that the deluge will bring other complications. Most notably, it is believed that heavy rains could cause landslides, flash flooding, and the contamination of water.

On Tuesday, the Bureau of Meteorology for New South Wales issued severe thunderstorm warnings. Included in the alert was the potential for damaging winds.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has estimated that anywhere between 30 and 80 millimeters could fall in affected locations between now and Sunday. However, with significant drought conditions, the potential is there that there could be significant water runoff as the dry earth struggles to absorb the extra moisture.

There is also the expectation that some water supplies could be contaminated as the runoff cleans away the blanket of ash covering affected areas. Of concern are those residents that rely on tank water for drinking and other household uses who may find their only source of water unusable if it is not initially diverted from their tanks.

Over the last two days in Victoria, the smoke haze has been so bad it has been listed as the worst in the world by experts. Residents have been advised by the local Government-funded Vic Emergency app to stay indoors and to avoid exercise in an effort to alleviate health issues associated with smoke inhalation. These warnings have been issued statewide, even for those areas not directly linked to the wildfire zones.

Since rains have fallen, there has been some clearing of the haze that has been prevalent in recent weeks. However, Vic Emergency is still issuing an air quality alert which sees the conditions for Victoria as very poor and belives it will continue to be “moderate to hazardous” for Thursday, January 16.