Weather News

Ex-Tropical Cyclone Owen dumps more than half a metre of rain in north Queensland

By Talissa Siganto, Tom Major and staff, Sunday December 16, 2018 - 15:00 EDT
ABC licensed image
Farmers say the flooding is unprecedented, caused simply by local rainfall, not from the river. - ABC licensed

Ex-Tropical Cyclone Owen has dumped "incredible" and "very intense" rain over parts of Queensland's north tropical coast, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) says.

Since being downgraded to a low yesterday afternoon the system has tracked south-east and brought torrential rain and thunderstorms to several towns, with levels now confirmed by BOM as "record-breaking" for the Hinchinbrook Shire.

The heaviest totals overnight were at Halifax east of Ingham, which recorded 681 millimetres in the 24 hours since 9:00am yesterday.

But some farmers south of the town at Braemeadows reported more than 700mm, recording up to 120mm per hour.

Third-generation sugar cane grower Paul Mizzi said it was unprecedented in his lifetime due to local rainfall, not upstream flooding from the Herbert River.

"We barely slept last night, checking the rain gauge and tipping out at least two inches [60mm] every hour," he said.

"It's a totally different flood, I've been out there this morning on the tractor checking paddocks and we've had paddocks wiped out.

"We'll write them off, the cane won't survive the debris and trash left behind — it'll smother it."

Nearby, chicken and cane farmer Dan Cordner said he has lost about 280 birds to the rain, with more losses expected.

"We got out to a paddock where the fence was 900mm high and the water level was just a few centimetres under that," he said.

"The maremma dogs we use to guard the free range chooks were swimming just to survive.

"We're doing anything we can now to keep breeding birds alive, bringing them inside and using a hairdryer at low speed to dry them off.

"If the wind hits them now they're wet we'll have many more die on us."

Just to the north of Townsville, Paradise Lagoon also received 212mm.

Nearby towns of Lucinda and Ingham recorded 390mm and about 300mm respectively over the same period, along with wind gusts of 100 kilometres per hour.

BOM senior forecaster Michelle Berry described the rainfall as "exceptional".

"Some of these totals are just incredible … it was very intense, very very heavy and it is quite rare," she said.

Flooding has closed a number of roads north of Ingham and motorists are being told to avoid travelling on the Bruce Highway between Cairns and Townsville.

State Emergency Service northern regional manager Darryl Camp said there had been two rescues in the state's north including a narrow escape for a mother and daughter in crocodile-waters near Ingham.

"There was some people who drove into flood waters and they were stuck on the roof of their vehicles … one of the reports was there was a three metre crocodile close by the vehicle so they had to make sure that was done very quickly," he said.

State Disaster Co-ordinator Bob Gee said it was obvious that crocodiles would be present in unpredictable environments such as floodwaters in north Queensland.

"You're going to run into wildlife where there's floods … it's not just the water that's a danger. It's fallen trees especially after the fires," he said.

Police near Tully came across a crocodile sitting near the middle of the road last night.

Mr Gee said people wanting to go out "rubbernecking" in those areas should think twice.

"Please have a second think about that … you're just going to risk yourself and others," he said.

Extra emergency crews, including police and SES, are set to remain in the flood impacted areas for a number of days.

Ms Berry said the system was expected to continue heading south-east, and could bring more heavy rain to areas between central Queensland through to northern Wide Bay by tonight.

BOM warned the heaviest rainfall was currently located in the north-eastern Capricornia district with 100mm falling in two hours at Samuel Hill.

"That system will move further south-eastward, mainly parallel to the coast today … a bit of uncertainty as to how far south it will actually move, that's why we've got the warning," she said.

"As that moves further southwards it will combine with an upper level trough, moving over the state to actually extend the possibility of heavy rain through Central Queensland as well, particularly about the Central Coast, but also into the central interior into the Capricornia and even potentially the northern Wide Bay tonight."

Inland areas including Moranbah and east of Emerald, towards Rockhampton, could also see heavy falls.

More than 900 homes just south of Townsville have been without power since 7:30am.

Hinchinbrook Mayor Ramon Jayo said rain has eased around Halifax and council staff and the Local Disaster Management Group would head out to assess any damage.

"For Hinchinbrook our previous best monthly amount of rain was 900.2mm and yesterday in 24-hours we secured [681mm] … so that's an unbelievable amount of rain," he said.

Halifax resident Erin Cross said it had been a restless night.

"It just hasn't stopped … my husband and I went to sleep at 3 o'clock this morning, pretty scary," she said

'Low chance' Owen could redevelop into a cyclone

BOM state manager Bruce Gunn said there was a "low chance" the system would redevelop into a cyclone.

"We're constantly monitoring the situation … in the meantime, there's a need for vigilance to remain high over the next day or two," he said.

Meanwhile further south, heavy rain is also predicted between the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast but it is not due to the ex-tropical cyclone.

"The south-east doesn't miss out all together … we actually have quite a deep north easterly wind flow today and that again will combine with the upper trough and we could even see some heavy falls through the south-east of the state today particularly with slow moving thunderstorms," Ms Berry said.

Tropical Cyclone Owen was downgraded to a tropical low at 4:00pm on Saturday, after making landfall south of Kowanyama with wind gusts of up to 170 kph.

The far north communities were spared from the wrath of Cyclone Owen,


© ABC 2018

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