Victorians have endured a scorching day, with bushfire alarms, dust storms and poor air quality across the state – and the weather bureau warns there is more to come.
“It has been a stinker across most of Victoria,” Bureau of Meteorology state manager Andrew Tupper said late on Friday afternoon, after many towns recorded temperatures in the mid-40s.
But, rather than the cool change many across the state might be expecting, extremely humid air and heavy rain will roll in within hours.
“It will be more than uncomfortable. It will be quite difficult for some,” Mr Tupper said.
The change will bring windy conditions – as well as potential flash flooding and the likelihood of more of the muddy rain that fell in Victoria earlier in January.
“The odds are if we get severe storms tomorrow, there will be hail,” Mr Tupper said.
“Most likely the hail will be less than five centimetres, which is still a pretty decent size, but it’s less likely that we’ll see the giant hail that was observed in some places.
“Please still keep an eye out just in case we get some particularly severe storms develop – with heavy rain also comes flash flooding.”
In South Australia, where the change came earlier, electricity was cut to almost 10,000 properties as thunderstorms and rain moved across the Eyre Peninsula. The Royal Adelaide Hospital was operating on generator power and had abandoned elective surgery after its electricity was cut on Thursday afternoon.
The Bureau of Meteorology said up to 100 millimetres of rain might fall in South Australia, with wind gusts up to 90km/h.
VicEmergency had already issued warnings of “moderate to very poor air quality” in Melbourne and the state’s west due to dust and wind.
“A dust storm is travelling south-east across the entire state from South Australia. The dust storm reached the Mallee and Wimmera earlier today [Friday].
“The dust storm will reach the central district in the late afternoon.”
Much of the state remained under total fire bans on Friday afternoon. There was an emergency warning for an out-of-control fire at Scarsdale, in central Victoria, south of Ballarat, but it was quickly brought under control.
Andrew Nixon, a spokesman at the Orbost incident control centre, told the ABC more than 100 Victorian firefighters were working on a fire at Bendoc and Bendoc Upper, near the Victorian-NSW border.
“There’s a lot of heavy smoke in the air,” he said.
“That may reduce our ability to have any air operations over the fire.”
An EMERGENCY WARNING has been issued for Ross Creek, Scarsdale, Smythesdale.
There is a bushfire at Smythesdale that is not yet under control. Leaving now is the safest option.
— CFA Updates (@CFA_Updates) January 31, 2020
The warning came as Victoria faced its highest demand for electricity in six years on Friday – just hours after a unit at one of its major power stations failed on Thursday night.
The failure of the unit at Loy Yang power station in the Latrobe Valley – which supplies a third of Victoria’s energy – put more pressure on the rest of the state’s grid.
“That unit failed with no notice at all,” state Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said.
“Today [Friday] is going to be challenging. Coal generators can fail with little or no notice, as we saw last night.”
The Australian Energy Market Operator has urged Victorians to reduce their energy use between 1pm-8pm to help prevent electricity blackouts as temperatures across the state soar into the 40s.
Power supply still very tight in Victoria. Here is the latest from @AEMO_Media. You can reduce your energy consumption by setting your air con to 23-26 degrees and avoid running appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines if possible until 9pm. https://t.co/OrOHxr32EN
— Lily D'Ambrosio MP (@LilyDAmbrosioMP) January 31, 2020
“While there are currently sufficient electricity reserves to manage the peak electricity demand today, this situation could change,” the regulator said on Friday.
It said people should avoid running additional appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines, set air-conditioners between 23-26 degrees and temporarily switch off pool pumps to help reduce use across the state.
Temperatures were expected to exceed 40 degrees across much of Victoria on Friday afternoon. Melbourne is forecast to hit 43, while 44 is tipped for many inland towns.
A severe thunderstorm warning for damaging winds has been issued for much of western #Vic, with a gust of 91km/h observed at Stawell. Thunderstorms will continue to be monitored, with warnings likely updated to include heavy rainfall later this afternoon https://t.co/sKtqpQ0Mcb pic.twitter.com/qZZ8Gcw8v1
— Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria (@BOM_Vic) January 31, 2020
NSW residents brace for more severe weather
Meanwhile, NSW residents and visitors were urged to remain vigilant ahead of extreme heat at the weekend, bringing heightened health and bushfire risks.
Temperatures are forecast to climb in the 40s in south-east and western NSW on Friday and Saturday due to a heatwave.
Bureau of Meteorology acting NSW manager Jane Golding said the heat and strong winds would bring very high fire danger, particularly on fire grounds in the ACT and along the state’s south coast.
“With the heat comes the fires,” Ms Golding said.
A #Fire Weather Warning has been issued for the Illawarra/Shoalhaven, Far South Coast, Monaro Alpine, Southern Ranges and Southern Slopes fire areas for Severe Fire Danger on Saturday. Full warning: https://t.co/bK2ikPoDNg Latest #RFS fire information: https://t.co/4ggfQ8Fm54 pic.twitter.com/AR2rCP7xTd
— Bureau of Meteorology, New South Wales (@BOM_NSW) January 31, 2020
Total fire bans have been issued for the Monaro Alpine, southern ranges and southern slopes areas and they are expected to remain in place until Monday.
Ms Golding said there were also concerns about air quality near the ACT and along the south coast due to bushfire smoke.
“That smoke is not going anywhere while the fires are burning and with the increased temperatures the fires will be producing higher levels of smoke,” she said.
“A lot of it is being directed towards the south coast at the moment but we just need the wind to shift and it’ll affect the city [of Sydney] as well.”
The NSW Rural Fire Service on Friday said there were 51 fires burning across the state with 20 not contained. More than 1600 firefighters were in the field.