Large hailstones, severe thunderstorms, and “apocalyptic” dust storms battered parts of southeastern Australia as some of the worst blazes the region has seen in decades continued to ravage the drought-stricken region.
Canberra was pelted with intense hail storms that left two tourists hospitalized with minor injuries and saw cars and buildings destroyed. Golf ball-sized hailstones and wind gusts up to about 72 miles per hour ripped branches from trees and smashed car windows. Emergency services were warning people in the area to “move cars undercover and away from trees and power lines.”
In Queensland, 20,000 homes and businesses were left without electricity as hail storms hammered the state, causing flash floods.
Dust storms, meanwhile, swept across areas of New South Wales on Jan. 19, leaving clouds of red smog in its path and blocking out parts of the sky as it billowed across towns.
Forecaster Abrar Shabren told ABC News wind gusts in Dubbo reached up to about 66 miles per hour. “This dust storm was pretty similar to what we call an atmospheric gravity current. There, it’s called a haboob dust storm,” he said. “In the past, similar storms have impacted the coast and reduced visibility there.”
Dust storms that smothered Dubbo and other towns nearby are thought to be similar to those seen in the Middle East and Shabren said the storms are an enduring symptom of a drought. “With a strong wind it raises the dust and it is elevated high up into the atmosphere,” he added.
Dubbo resident Jenny Duggan told the news outlet that the town was covered in darkness almost instantly. “The dust storm was moving fast and was so thick that it went completely dark, [resulting in] zero visibility in less than a minute,” she recalled.
The freak weather came parts of Australia continues to be ravaged by the bushfires that have left swathes of the country burned, hundreds of millions of animals dead, and more than 2,000 homes destroyed. At least 29 lives have been lost since September 2019.
The bureau of meteorology told people in the southeast of New South Wales, including Sydney, to brace for the approaching storm. “Severe thunderstorms are likely to produce damaging, locally destructive winds, large, possibly giant hailstones and heavy rainfall that may lead to flash flooding in the warning area over the next several hours,” the bureau said.
Last week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison prepared to finalize the AU$2 billion (approximately $1.37 billion) bushfire recovery plans for affected by the devastating blazes.
Morrison held bushfire roundtables in Canberra on Jan. 16 and Jan. 17 to outline the next stage of federal government’s response for those affected, including small business and tourist operators.
Earlier this month, he said the government would pay “whatever it costs” to recover from the fires. If further funding was needed, it would be provided, Morrison said.
AFP and Reuters contributed to this report.