Heavy rainfall is bringing more dangerous flooding to Australia. The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a severe weather warning for Western Australia, and officials say once-in-a-century flooding has hit areas in the north of the state.
The Australian military has been called in to help rescue residents in Fitzroy Crossing, a remote town of about 1,200 people in Western Australia’s Kimberley region.
Homes have been inundated by floodwater and the region’s only main highway has been cut. Residents have been urged to move to higher ground.
Authorities fear the Fitzroy River that runs through the town could rise to more than 15 meters, breaking previous records.
The torrential rain is from ex-tropical cyclone Ellie, which has dumped up to 600 millimeters of water on the region since Saturday. More heavy falls are forecast.
Western Australia’s Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm told reporters Wednesday that the situation is hazardous and that “We are currently having at least a one-in-one-hundred-year flood event in the Kimberley [region]. This is an incredibly serious situation.”
“The system is expected to slowly move west over the coming days and people in the warning areas need to get ready for this severe weather,” Klemm warned.
Australia’s tropical cyclone season runs from November 1 to April 30, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. It has forecast an above-average number of tropical cyclones for the 2022–23 season.
Major flooding is continuing in other parts of Australia, which were hit by record-rainfall in 2022. An evacuation order remains in place for vulnerable properties in the outback town of Menindee in New South Wales, 1,100 kilometers west of Sydney.
More than 3,000 properties along the Murray River in South Australia have been inundated by floodwaters. State Premier Peter Malinauskas Tuesday announced the state's largest natural disaster support package worth $85 million to help homeowners and businesses.
The flooding in South Australia is caused by vast amounts of rain that have fallen in the eastern Australian states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, over the past three years. Much of that water has slowly flowed into the Murray River in South Australia.
The climatic phenomenon La Niña has helped to fuel the flooding. It occurs naturally and is influenced by warmer ocean temperatures. During a La Niña phase waters in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean are cooler than average, typically bringing higher than average rainfall over much of Australia.
Climate experts believe the La Niña system has been super-charged by climate change.
In its State of the Climate 2022 report issued with the Bureau of Meteorology, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, noted an “increase in the intensity of heavy rainfall events in Australia.”
The report stated that despite three consecutive La Niña events leading to “exceptionally wet conditions” in many parts of eastern Australia, “the observed trends for the south-east and south-west of the country show a shift towards drier conditions.”
However, for northern Australia, the trend is different. The CSIRO said that rainfall in the north of Australia has been increasing.