Australian Weather News


AWN Home Page

Tuesday, 25 DEC 2001

About Australian Weather News

Disastrous Christmas Day fires in western Sydney
Fires burn out of control across eastern NSW
Heatwave in NSW and Qld but Cold in Tas and Vic
Plumes of smoke from the Sydney Christmas Day fires stream 500km into the Tasman in this visible satellite imagery captured at 3.30pm today. NPMOC
In a day that will long be remembered by residents, hot, dry and gusty westerly winds drove firefronts and firestorms from the lower Blue Mountains into the outer western and southwestern suburbs of Sydney today. Dozens of homes and businesses were destroyed in an area extending from Kurrajong in the north to Warragamba in the south. Six fires that were barely under control in the Lapstone to Blaxland area overnight turned into infernos as winds picked up late morning. Winds strengthened significantly at Mt Boyce in the western Blue Mountains from 10am, peaking with average winds of 70km/h and gusts to 95km/h soon after 3pm. At Penrith, winds picked up soon after midday and averaged 40 to 50km/h with gusts to 60 to 70km/h until mid evening. Peak gust at Penrith was 80km/h at 4.30pm. 

At Lapstone, the Highway and main railway line, which reopened this morning after yesterday's fires, were again closed as a major blaze moved ESE and jumped the Nepean River. The worst-hit centres were around Glenmore Park south of Penrith, Silverdale and Warragamba. Initial estimates put 22 houses in the Penrith area destroyed. Spot fires developed away from the firefront, resulting in progressive road closures including the M4 motorway. Shops were ablaze in Warragamba village, and a factory was destroyed near St Marys. About 5,000 people were isolated in Warragamba and Silverdale when fires cut access to the settlements. In the lower Blue Mountains, fires continued to threaten, causing the evacuation of homes near Blaxland, Lapstone, Glenbrook, Windsor and along Blaxland's Ridge near Kurrajong. 7,000 homes in the lower Mountains had no power or water. Many of the evacuations came as families were sitting down to Christmas Lunch.

By late evening, the firefront was continuing to move ESE towards the southern Sydney suburbs of Engadine and Campbelltown, and the northern Wollongong settlements of Helensburgh and Otford. Dozens of people were forced to flee the community of Darkes Forest, south of Helensburgh, in the worst fires in that region for 35 years.

Elsewhere in NSW, an increasingly grim bushfire picture emerged, with 70 fires burning out of control in the dry, gusty winds.

  • Fires in the Shoalhaven south of Nowra severely damaged or burnt down up to 20 properties in the area around Tomerong and Huskisson. The fire burnt through parts of Vincentia and Tomerong and was heading towards Callala Beach late today. Princes Highway was closed south of Nowra. Power cuts extended from Huskisson down the coast as far as Moruya.
  • North of Wollongong,  homes were evacuated at Stanwell Tops, Otford, Waterfall,
    Helensburgh, and the Garrawarra Nursing Home south of Waterfall after the lower Blue Mountains fire front travelled 60km in an unprecedented six hours. Many were taken to the Wollongong Entertainment Centre, which was accommodating about 1100 people at days end. The evacuations included many holiday makers from Royal National Park who had nowhere else to go. Hundreds of these were people who were originally evacuated to Helensburgh and had to be re-evacuated. However, attempts to move them north to Engadine failed, and they were eventually taken to Wollongong. More than 3,000 campers in all were evacuated from RNP. All major roads including the F6, old Princes Highway, Appin Road, Sir Lawrence Hargrave Drive and Bulli Pass were closed, and south coast trains were suspended between Sutherland and Thirroul. The M5 was closed south of Narellan. Power was lost at many coastal towns, either through power poles burning down, or the need to remove power for the protection of firefighters and the public.
  • In the ACT, fire crews continued to battle blazes on the slopes of Red Hill in Canberra's south, and on the ACT/NSW border near Queanbeyan. One house was burnt down. Fresh fires broke out at Mt Wanniassa in Macarthur, Yarralumla and Belconnen and spot fires were reported in O'Connor, Queanbeyan and Curtin.
  • On the North and Mid North Coasts, two homes were destroyed at Corindi, 30km north of Coffs Harbour, though valiant efforts by firefighters saved the villages of Billynudgel north of Byron Bay, Tullymorgan NE of Grafton and Arakoon NE of Kempsey. The Pacific Highway was closed south of Grafton and near Kempsey where large fires were moving into the Bunjelung and Hat Head National Parks.
  • In the Hawkesbury area north of Sydney, 14 homes were lost to fire.
  • A major fire was also reported from Narromine in the state's central west.

At a press conference at day's end, Rural Fire Services Commissioner Phil Koperberg said that today's emergency was the most intense he had seen. An estimated 60 homes, factories and shops were destroyed during the day. Describing how winds of 100km/h created terrifying firestorms up to 30 metres high, the commissioner said the emphasis now was on saving lives and property. "We estimate we have some 4,000 people from all the services in the field attempting not to put out the fires, that's impossible at the moment," he said. "They have saved literally hundreds and hundreds of houses in door to door firefighting
in the past 12 hours. Then tomorrow we face the daunting prospect of strong south westerly winds which means that everything that is a flank today becomes a front tomorrow."

While maximum temperature records fell in northern NSW and SE Qld, Christmas brought wintry weather to Tasmania and parts of Victoria. Byron Bay on the NSW North Coast recorded its all time highest maximum temperature in 24 years of computerised records when the mercury rose to 35.1. In Queensland, Baralaba, 100km SW of Rockhampton, recorded its hottest December day in 32 years with a top of 43.4. Like yesterday, maximum temperatures were between 8 and 14 above average along the NSW coast north from the Illawarra and through much of SE Qld. 

The strong hot westerlies that caused bushfire grief in NSW were strong cold westerlies across Tasmania and southern Victoria. The temperature difference between Hobart and Sydney at the 850hPa level in the atmosphere (about 1.3km) was around 17 (1 over Hobart, 18 over Sydney), explaining the intensity and breadth of the westerly airstream. On the summit of Mt Wellington behind Hobart, the temperature hovered between 1 and 3 for most of the day, with strong winds peaking at 117km/h at 7pm and light snow flurries during the afternoon and evening. Wintry showers, with hail and occasional thunder, were reported from Tasmania and coastal Victoria. A deep low pressure system south of Tasmania was responsible, with the observer at Maatsuyker Island, off Tasmania's south coast, noting that the 3pm pressure reading of 980.5hPa was the lowest 3pm pressure reading so far this year.

National weather extremes for today
Data provided by the Bureau of Meteorology
Last updated at 20:00 EDST on 27/12/01

Quality control note: Data is complete, and has been visually checked by AWN for gross errors. Less obvious errors may remain. See Explanation of Extremes Pages for more information
Records set this day (previous record and years of computerised record shown in brackets):
Highest daily maximum temperature for any month:
Byron Bay LH NSW: 35.1 (34.6, 24)
Highest daily maximum temperature for December:
Baralaba PO Qld: 43.4 (42.6, 32)

Todays highest rainfall totals for the 24 hours to 9am. It includes the top 5 totals received, and/or all reported falls of 50mm or more.

55.4 HUMPTY DOO COLLARD ROAD Darwin-Daly NT
33.0 MOUNT READ W Coast TAS
30.8 ROSEBERY (GEPP STREET) W Coast TAS
30.0 LOW ROCKY POINT W Coast TAS
28.8 LAKE MARGARET POWER STATION W Coast TAS

NORTHERN TERRITORY
    Darwin-Daly
55.4 HUMPTY DOO COLLARD ROAD

TASMANIA
    W Coast
33.0 MOUNT READ
30.8 ROSEBERY (GEPP STREET)
30.0 LOW ROCKY POINT
28.8 LAKE MARGARET POWER STATION

High rainfall for periods of 6 hours or less.


NORTHERN TERRITORY
    Darwin-Daly
PIRLANGIMPI
15.0mm in 3 hr to 17:30 5.0mm/h
BATCHELOR AERO
16.6mm in 50 min to 17:30 19.9mm/h
16.6mm in 1 hr to 17:30 16.6mm/h
17.0mm in 3 hr to 17:30 5.7mm/h
    Alice Springs
YULARA AERO
5.0mm in 14 min to 18:37 21.4mm/h

SOUTH AUSTRALIA
    NW Pastoral
ERNABELLA (PUKATJA)
13.4mm in 19 min to 17:49 42.3mm/h
13.6mm in 1 hr to 18:30 13.6mm/h

Todays highest & lowest temperatures

Maximum Minimum
45.6 CLONCURRY AIRPORT Gulf Country QLD
45.0 URANDANGIE Northwest QLD
44.5 BOULIA AIRPORT Channel Country QLD
44.3 TELFER AERO Interior WA
44.0 MARBLE BAR E Pilbara WA
44.0 JULIA CREEK AIRPORT Gulf Country QLD
44.0 CAMOOWEAL TOWNSHIP Northwest QLD
31.5 CADJEBUT W Kimberley WA
30.4 SWEERS ISLAND Gulf Country QLD
30.0 WITTENOOM W Pilbara WA
29.8 NORMANTON AIRPORT Gulf Country QLD
29.4 TELFER AERO Interior WA
4.1 MOUNT READ W Coast TAS
4.5 MOUNT WELLINGTON Southeast TAS
5.0 THREDBO (CRACKENBACK STATION) AWS Snowy Mtns NSW
6.6 CRADLE MOUNTAIN AIRSTRIP Central Plateau TAS
8.3 HARTZ MOUNTAIN(KEOGHS PIMPLE) Southeast TAS
-0.2 MOUNT WELLINGTON Southeast TAS
0.7 MT HOTHAM Upper NE VIC
1.0 THREDBO (CRACKENBACK STATION) AWS Snowy Mtns NSW
1.0 MOUNT BULLER Upper NE VIC

Todays greatest temperature variations from normal

Maximum Minimum
+13.2   39.1 YAMBA PILOT STATION North Coast NSW
+11.6   40.7 MURWILLUMBAH (BRAY PARK) North Coast NSW
+11.5   38.2 ALSTONVILLE TROPICAL FRUIT RESEARCH STAT North Coast NSW
+11.3   36.0 PORT MACQUARIE (HILL STREET) MidNorth Coast S NSW
+11.1   35.8 NORAH HEAD LIGHTHOUSE Hunter Valley NSW
+7.2   25.4 ALSTONVILLE TROPICAL FRUIT RESEARCH STAT North Coast NSW
+7.0   23.0 TABULAM (MUIRNE) N Tablelands E NSW
+6.7   22.8 LOSTOCK DAM SITE Hunter Valley NSW
+5.7   26.5 CLERMONT POST OFFICE Central Highlands QLD
+5.6   23.6 COFFS HARBOUR MO MidNorth Coast N NSW
-9.4   18.0 RAVENSTHORPE Gt Southern WA
-9.1   22.1 BALRANALD RSL Southwest Plains NSW
-9.1   5.0 THREDBO (CRACKENBACK STATION) AWS Snowy Mtns NSW
-9.0   19.6 YONGALA Upper North SA
-8.9   18.4 ONGERUP Gt Southern WA
-5.4   9.0 NULLARBOR ROADHOUSE W Agricultural SA
-5.3   8.4 WAGGA WAGGA AMO SW Slopes S NSW
-4.6   13.0 WOOMERA AERODROME NW Pastoral SA
-4.6   1.0 MOUNT BULLER Upper NE VIC
-4.4   7.2 BATHURST AGRICULTURAL STATION C Tablelands S NSW

Highest wind gusts above 89km/h or mean wind above 62km/h (gale force). Wind direction and mean windspeed shown in brackets.

YULARA AERO Alice Springs NT : 82 (240/ 69 ) at 18:23
BIRDSVILLE AIRPORT Channel Country QLD: 74 (220/ 63 ) at 13:00
MOUNT BOYCE AWS C Tablelands S NSW: 95 (260/ 70 ) at 15:19
NOWRA RAN AIR STATION AWS Illawarra NSW: 85 (300/ 67 ) at 15:09
GREEN CAPE AWS South Coast NSW: 109 (240/ 89 ) at 19:53
EAST SALE AIRPORT W Gippsland VIC: 96 (280/ 43 ) at 15:26
WILSONS PROMONTORY LIGHTHOUSE W Gippsland VIC: 117 (270/ 78 ) at 13:50
KINGFISH A SHIP LOG 206 W Gippsland VIC: 74 (269/ 65 ) at 20:00
MOORABBIN AIRPORT E Central VIC: 74 (270/ 63 ) at 13:25
FRANKSTON AWS E Central VIC: 85 (240/ 63 ) at 14:35
FAWKNER BEACON E Central VIC: 78 (280/ 63 ) at 13:21
AVALON AIRPORT W Central VIC: 82 (270/ 69 ) at 12:40
POINT WILSON W Central VIC: 85 (270/ 72 ) at 12:43
EILDON FIRE TOWER N Central VIC: 87 (250/ 74 ) at 15:28
COLAC (MT GELLIBRAND) W Coast VIC: 85 (260/ 65 ) at 17:10
EDDYSTONE POINT E Coast TAS: 87 (280/ 63 ) at 11:00
MAATSUYKER ISLAND LIGHTHOUSE Southeast TAS: 93 (300/ 82 ) at 15:00
MOUNT WELLINGTON Southeast TAS: 117 (250/ 91 ) at 19:00

Other extremes

..