Catastrophic flooding has hit Australia’s East Coast since February 22nd. The rain has had an extreme impact on Australian cities, with half a million residents told to evacuate, and thousands of homes left inundated.
As of February 27th, at least 9 people have been killed by the torrential downpour, with the rain having mainly affected Queensland. It slowly moved south towards Brisbane, the state’s capital, last Tuesday. The Brisbane river has been swollen, and surrounding streets have been flooded, causing widespread damage to nearby infrastructure, vehicles, and roads.
These severe rainfalls have been connected to La Niña, a phenomenon involving differing ocean temperatures that reacts with the coast of Eastern Australia. La Niña, in combination with water-catchments that have been over capacity the last two summers, caused this extreme downpour to grave effects in Australia.
More than 18,000 homes across the state have been impacted, 1,500 residents have been evacuated, hundreds of schools are closed, and people have been asked to work from home. On February 20, officials also asked residents to conserve water when the rain caused damage to a water treatment plant, turning it offline.
Stranded Australians have taken to social media to beg for aid, with a Twitter user sharing a picture of a resident cutting themselves out of a roof, as floodwaters continue to rise into houses.
Australia has frequently faced extreme weather conditions within the last few years, such as bushfires caused by drought in the summer of 2020–2021, which caused over 445 deaths and over 4,000 patients to be admitted into hospitals due to smoke.
Experts believe the ongoing rain will continue for many months. University of Sydney climate expert Nandini Ramesh suspects that even the most optimal scenario won’t see Sydney enjoying clear skies at least until August.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has predicted La Niña’s effects to lessen around June – when Sydney usually experiences the most rainfall, meaning that the downpour won’t likely ease until August. However, the BoM has admitted that predictions regarding weather events cannot always be relied upon.
“The atmosphere is a highly dynamic and fluid environment, and any time in the future, something extraordinary could happen.” “These extreme weather events that we see only start to show a signal on computer models at around about day seven,” a BoM spokesperson said.
The last time Queensland faced similar flooding was in 2011, which caused the deaths of 33 people, affected over 200,000 people, and led to billions of dollars of damage.
Currently, the BoM can only guarantee that La Nia’s effects will likely last for at least three more months, “but how much more wetter than normal remains to be seen.”
These recent extreme environmental events observed in Australia and worldwide remind us of the need for cities to be well-equipped for unprecedented weather as the effects of climate change become increasingly damaging.