Golf-ball-sized hail stones carpet a street after a hailstorm in Canberra, Australia, on January 20 2020. Picture: YING TAN VIA REUTERS
Golf-ball-sized hail stones carpet a street after a hailstorm in Canberra, Australia, on January 20 2020. Picture: YING TAN VIA REUTERS

Sydney — “Apocalyptic” dust storms swept across drought-stricken areas of Australia at the weekend, with thunder and giant hail battering the east coast, as extreme weather patterns collided in the bushfire-fatigued country.

The southern city of Melbourne was lashed by huge hailstones late Sunday and fire-ravaged parts of Victoria state overnight received heavy rainfall, prompting new extreme weather alerts.

Since October, Australia has been overwhelmed by an unprecedented bushfire season made worse by climate change.

Swathes of the country have burnt, hundreds of millions of animals have died, more than 2,000 homes have been destroyed and at least 29 lives have been lost.

Dramatic images captured at the weekend from western New South Wales show a huge wall of dust rolling through outback towns. Locals reported being cast into darkness in the middle of the day.

“We are used to the ritual and rush of bringing in washing, turning aircons off, closing windows and doors, before a big dust storm hits,” Ashleigh Hull, from the rural town of Dubbo, said.

This one was “more spectacular” than the typical dust storm, she added.

“It was honestly like an apocalyptic movie, a huge wave coming towards us, really quite impressive, but I just wish it actually brought a good amount of rain, not dust.”

Violent hailstorms pelted the capital, Canberra, on Monday, with footage showing the storm ripping branches off trees.

Emergency services were warning people there to “move cars undercover and away from trees and power lines”.

The bureau of meteorology told people in the southeast of New South Wales to be “well prepared” 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.

In Victoria, where bushfires continue to smoulder, heavy rainfall overnight was welcomed in fire grounds in the north, but authorities said it also brought with it new dangers.

State premier Daniel Andrews said the rain meant “much more dangerous conditions” for those operating heavy machinery to get into areas damaged by bushfires, while landslides complicated efforts to open up closed roads.

The wet weather has brought a reprieve for many fire grounds along the east coast, but authorities remain on high alert, warning that the bushfire season still has weeks to run.


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