Drivers were winched to safety after becoming trapped in their vehicles on the Hume Freeway as heavy rain brought floods and emergency warnings to northern Victoria on Thursday afternoon.
Victoria’s State Emergency Service had responded to more than 20 requests for assistance by 1pm (ADST), including reports of up to 100 cars trapped on the freeway near Wangaratta, in the state’s north-east.
Drivers and passengers waited on the tops of their vehicles before they could be airlifted away from the flooded road, as emergency services warned of worse weather to come later in the afternoon.
Flash flooding can occur quickly due to heavy rainfall. Never walk, ride or drive through flood water. It can take only 15 centimetres of water to lose control of your vehicle and float. (2/2) pic.twitter.com/fkXBCBaTcc
— Victoria Police (@VictoriaPolice) December 13, 2018
Flood had closed the freeway – the main route between Sydney and Melbourne – by midday Thursday in both directions between Barnawartha and Wangaratta.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” talkback caller Denis told ABC Radio Goulburn Murray.
“The southbound [side of the freeway] is high enough so that’s clear but the [on the] northbound [side], they’re turning off people at the Rutherglen Rd from Wangaratta.”
He said some people climbed out onto the roofs of their vehicles until they could be rescued.
Some parts of north-eastern Victoria had recorded more than 100 millimetres of rain by early Thursday afternoon, including 134 millimetres at the weather bureau’s Bloomfield Park rain gauge between Beechworth and Wangaratta.
The Hume Freeway remains closed both ways between Barnawartha and Wangaratta due to flooding. Southbound traffic is being diverted at The Murray Valley Highway. Northbound detours have been set up at the Goulburn Valley Highway. Don't drive through flood waters. #victraffic pic.twitter.com/fwvwzO04Id
— VicTraffic (@VicTraffic) December 13, 2018
But the worst rain was still to come for those in Victoria’s south, with forecasters tipping a wet peak-hour commute for Melburnians.
The Bureau of Meteorology said the rain and storms would build as the day went on, with the heaviest falls expected on Thursday afternoon.
Flood warnings were issued for rivers in the state’s north and mountain country, with falls of up to 100 millimetres predicted.
Swathes of Melbourne, and much of the rest of Victoria, were being urged to brace for flash flooding, with about a month’s worth of rain expected.
Rain totals for the 26 hours to 11am this morning: #BloomfieldPark (Everton) 161.6mm#Wangaratta 60mm#Hopetoun 48mm#Melbourne 20mm
More rain and storms expected across Vic as the low pressure system continues to develop.@vicsesnews @vicemergency #VicStorms #melbweather pic.twitter.com/bFUYnqtq6x
— Bureau of Meteorology, Victoria (@BOM_Vic) December 13, 2018
Elsewhere, zombie Cyclone Owen was expected to be upgraded to a category 4 storm before it crossed the Northern Territory coastline, bringing torrential rain, flooding and winds of up to 170km/h to the NT and Queensland.
Other parts of Australia were also expected to feel the effects of the wild weather engulfing much of the nation. The weather bureau has predicted supercell thunderstorms for much of NSW and damaging winds in Adelaide for Thursday.
The conditions led to a dust storm across parts of north-western NSW on Thursday afternoon, prompting a warning from the state’s Rural Fire Service.
A large dust storm is currently moving through #Coonamble in the states north west. Storms are forecast for all of #NSW today, some possibly severe. If you need storm assistance call the @NSWSES on 132500. @BOM_NSW pic.twitter.com/79VZVAkutv
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 13, 2018
Bureau of Meteorology weather services manager Richard Wardle said heavy rain would be one of Owen’s most noticeable impacts.
“A flood watch has been updated today to include catchments from the Daintree to Townsville, and this will likely be expanded in the coming days,” he said.
“It’s important to be aware that before we begin to feel the effects of this system in the south-east, we are also forecasting severe thunderstorms with heavy falls in southern Queensland on Friday and Saturday.”
Severe tropical #CycloneOwen has strengthened to category 3 and is now on the #NT coast between #PortRoper and #PortMcArthur, just west of #BingBong. See https://t.co/07IsZLa09X for the latest warnings, advice and forecast track maps. @ntpfes @ABCemergency pic.twitter.com/EFnRU9ngKv
— Bureau of Meteorology, Northern Territory (@BOM_NT) December 13, 2018
Brisbane is forecast to have almost 200 millimetres of rain by Sunday, with up to 60 millimetres expected for Friday alone.
Meanwhile, rain is also forecast for Tasmania, with the possibility of about 65 millimetres in Launceston on Friday.
Storms were also forecast for Canberra on Thursday, along with 30-60 millimetres of rain.
There was no escape for Sydney, either. Wet weather is forecast for the harbour city on Thursday and Friday.