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A damp spring ahead favours flood risks over bushfires

Ben Domensino, a senior forecaster with Weatherzone, said rainfall for Sydney during winter was just over 200 millimetres, or about two-thirds of a typical June-August season.

“We had those long, dry spells,” he said.

The bleak COVID-19 lockdown may have made the winter seem longer and cooler than usual for many but temperatures were actual above average. Based on daytime temperatures, Sydney likely posted its fifth-warmest winter in more than 160 years of records, he said.

“You remember the extremes rather than the average,” Mr Domensino said, noting the harbour city had a 10.3-degree day on June 10, the city’s coldest day since 1984, and another chilly day in August when the mercury struggled to get above 11.

Conditions favouring the wetter-than-usual spring include relatively warm waters off north-west Western Australia and a relatively cool central Pacific that is leaning towards a La Nina event, the bureau said.

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Despite the moderate lead into spring, the NSW Rural Fire Service has brought forward the start of its official bushfire season to September for most of coastal NSW, excluding Sydney.

RFS Deputy Commissioner of field operations Peter McKechnie said recent wet weather had spurred good grass and crop growth, which once dried out could provide fuel for blazes.

“Compared to the 2019-20 season, we don’t have terrible underlying drought conditions across the state,” he said. “This year, we’re really focused on that potential for grass fires” from the Queensland border down to Victoria.

“Fires can impact people quickly – you don’t need a big fire, but even a single ignition at the wrong place and wrong time and people and properties can be in danger,” he said.

As if on cue, fire crews were called to control a grassfire near Singleton on Tuesday afternoon.

Sydney and its surrounds will enter its fire season on October 1.

Mr McKechnie said people should use this time to prepare their bushfire survival plans.

Dawn visitors to Mona Vale enjoy a fine end to winter and to kick off spring. Long-range forecasters suggest such days may not be so common later in the season.

Dawn visitors to Mona Vale enjoy a fine end to winter and to kick off spring. Long-range forecasters suggest such days may not be so common later in the season.Credit:Nick Moir

Good rains that have fed the vegetation growth have also buoyed dam levels across NSW.

A WaterNSW spokesman said rain forecast for the weekend could potentially generate sufficient inflows for another minor spill at Warragamba, the first since June.

“Controlled releases are underway to reduce the storage to one metre below full supply level, for operational purposes” ahead of the predicted rain, the spokesman said.

Across the metropolitan dams, all are above 75 per cent of storage capacity with the exception of Fitzroy Falls Reservoir which is just shy of that mark.

Regional NSW, meanwhile, continues to enjoy the best water security since 2016, with a combined storage of almost 12,000 gigalitres, or 86 per cent of capacity, WaterNSW data shows.

That compares with 3000GL in December 2029, when regional dams were just over one-fifth full.

“Major regional supply dams such as Keepit (Namoi River), Chaffey (Peel), Burrendong (Macquarie), Wyangala (Lachlan), Blowering (Tumut), Burrinjuck (Murrumbidgee) and Hume (Murray) are all above 90 per cent of capacity, with dams on the Murrumbidgee, Peel and Lachlan having experienced spills in recent weeks,” the spokesman said.

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