Severe storms are expected to bring some relief in the coming days from bushfires but the heavy downpours could also carry the risk of landslides and water pollution, officials said.
The shift to more humid and wet weather later on Wednesday will likely help control some of the 114 blazes burning across New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria states and potentially even extinguish some, but also bring new dangers.
“This is a day that we are quite concerned about,” Kevin Parkyn, a senior meteorologist with the Bureau of Meteorology, told reporters as he detailed a forecast of damaging winds, heavy rainfall and large hailstones for Melbourne and its surrounds.
“Thunderstorms are a bit of a double-edged sword. While they can bring some much-needed rain, [the rain] can also come down in very fast, high quantities,” Parkyn said.
Heavy downpours can pollute fresh water supplies as debris is swept into reservoirs. They can also cause flash flooding, leaving burnt-out areas of bushland particularly vulnerable to landslips and tree felling.
Melbourne bore the brunt on Wednesday of smoke haze that satellites operated by US space agency NASA scientists have tracked circumnavigating the globe.
Flights were cancelled as the heavy smoke shut down a runway at the city’s airport and the start of qualifying matches for the Australian Open tournament, tennis’ first Grand Slam of the year, was delayed for the second day in a row.
In NSW, the best rainfall in Sydney overnight was 18mm at Penrith.
The NSW Rural Fire Services posted a rare light-hearted tweet ahead of the forecast wet weather.
Photographs of a vehicle windscreen wiper stick and an umbrella were accompanied by the note: “We wanted to reintroduce you to a couple of items that you may not have used in some time.
With more than 100 fires still burning across #NSW we are hoping we need to use both of these over the coming days.”
Reporting by Lidia Kelly.