“We have experienced an increase in demand from people driving into floodwaters. It doesn’t work. You can’t beat those floodwaters under the volume of water. People are clearly not hearing or adhering to those messages.”
The system that dumped around 300 millimetres of rain on parts of the Byron Bay area is now concentrated on the area between Newcastle and Batemans Bay, with heavy falls in the Blue Mountains and on the Illawarra escarpment. Sydney and the Central Coast will get their heaviest falls over the next 12 hours.
Bureau of Meteorology acting NSW state manager Jane Golding said the last time Sydney had recorded as much rain was in 2016, but by the time the system passed it would likely rival a weather event in 1998 for the total rainfall recorded.
“It is uncommon to see rainfall rates as high as we have seen, up in the hundreds of millimetres occurring over consecutive days,” Ms Golding said. “That’s very uncommon to NSW.”
Some areas were already experiencing gale force winds, which indicated that the system was intensifying. About 15 to 20 millimetres of rain was falling per hour.
“We are expecting to see moderate flooding for some of our rivers and potentially it is not out of the question that we get major,” Ms Golding said.
The wind had also affected surf conditions and waves of up to eight metres had been recorded.
“Those waves are being directed towards the coast. That, in combination with the king tides we are seeing today and expecting tomorrow, will mean some areas see some coastal erosion and we will also see inundation into low-lying areas.”
The NSW Rural Fire Service announced on Saturday night that the rain had extinguished the mammoth Currowan fire, which raged for 74 days and razed 500,000 hectares on the South Coast from Batemans Bay to Sussex Inlet, running north to the southern highlands and inland to Queanbeyan.
The Blue Mountains has recorded some of the heaviest rainfall, with Wentworth Falls receiving 180mm, but areas around Newnes on the western side of the range have received much less rain, and the Gospers Mountain fire is still listed at advice level.
Emergency services have now turned their concerns to predictions of flash flooding and coastal erosion along the east coast.
NSW SES Commissioner Carlene York said emergency volunteers had been called to homes that had been flooded after trees came down on their roofs and there had been moderate flooding in the Milperra, Narrabeen and Hawkesbury-Nepean areas including the Colo River. The SES is giving out sandbags.
“This is an extreme event,” Commissioner York said. “It’s very concerning the number of flood rescues we’ve seen.”
The SES has issued flood warnings for the Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment and parts of the South Coast, and severe weather warnings for the Sydney metropolitan area, Illawarra and parts of Mid North Coast, Hunter, South Coast, Central Tablelands and Southern Tablelands.
High tides are expected to exacerbate flood conditions in low-lying areas.
Cudgera Creek in the Tweed Shire recorded the highest fall over the last 24 hours, with 320mm of rain, followed by Kingscliff which recorded more than 250mm. In Sydney, Sydney Olympic Park received 98mm of rain and Wahroonga recorded 96mm.
The rain is already causing havoc with transport, with Sydney Trains carrying out “urgent infrastructure repairs” at Central Station after platforms nine to 12 became inaccessible due to the weather.
Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Helen Kirkup said the current rainfall event was unusual in that it was affecting the entire coast, rather than one particular area.
“The thing with this one is that it’s actually quite widespread,” Ms Kirkup said.
The drought affected inland had received patchy rain, with storms delivering high rainfall to some areas but nothing to others, she said. Inverell received 100mm over the last 24 hours and Tamworth 30-50mm, but Walgett had only received 8mm.
Harriet Alexander is a reporter for the Herald.
Aiesha Saunders is an intern at The Sydney Morning Herald.