Sunday, December 25, 2011

Planes grounded as hailstorms hit Melbourne, Australia

Huge hailstones hit Taylor's Lakes, in Melbourne's north.
Picture: Nick Vlahandreas

HAILSTONES the size of cricket balls, flash-flooding, planes diverted and flights postponed, power lost from homes, major transport delays and a tornado to top things off - that was Christmas Day in Melbourne. 

Much of Victoria copped the extremes - from steamy, sultry weather for Christmas lunch to severe storms that left many residents struggling to compare them with anything in memory.

The volunteers who staff the State Emergency Service had little time to digest their lunch when the calls for help started arriving.

Melton, on Melbourne's western fringes, was the first to report hailstones at 3.30pm (AEDT).

Then the skies exploded over greater Melbourne, as lightning strikes, loud cracks of thunder, torrential rain and hailstones hammered the city.

By 9pm the SES had handled more than 2000 calls for assistance, mainly damage caused by hailstones to skylights and windows.

It may be a few days before the damage to motor vehicles can be assessed.

Much of Victoria remained at risk this evening, with severe weather warnings for Melbourne city fringe areas including Hurstbridge, Lilydale, Yarra Glen, Healesville, east of Mt Dandenong and south of Kinglake. 

Warnings were also issued for regional Victorian areas including Mildura, Horsham, Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton, Seymour, Maryborough, Geelong, Melbourne, Wangaratta, Traralgon and Bairnsdale.

And storm warnings were also issued for southern New South Wales and the ACT. The weather bureau said areas that could be affected included Canberra, Goulburn, Yass, Parkes, Wagga Wagga, Albury, Deniliquin, Griffith, Hay, Cobar, Wentworth and Balranald.

SES spokesman Lachlan Quick said reinforcements from SES branches in the Victoria's western districts would be drafted in on Monday to help with the huge clean-up in the north and northwest parts of the state.
He said most of the calls concerned smashed windows and skylights.

"There was a tornado reported at Fiskville and we know it touched down at Keilor Downs because we had some SES volunteers there and they had to run for shelter," Mr Quick said.

Bicycle paths along the Yarra will be closed on Monday as the river swells with floodwater.

Powercor, which provides electricity for those living in Melbourne's and the state's west, including Bendigo and Ballarat, reported more than 3300 people without power at 9pm along with damage to lines and power poles.

At Melbourne Airport international and domestic flights were diverted to Sydney because of strong winds and lightning, while planes that were due to fly out were grounded.

Passengers urged to contact their airline or the airport for further information.

Metro, which runs the Melbourne's train services, was warning commuters to expect major delays, with most lines disrupted, and had advised people to defer non-essential travel.

It said many of its pedestrian subways were under water.

VicRoads was reporting many roads closed in the worst-hit areas northwest of Melbourne because of flooding.

At Lilydale, in Melbourne's east, flooding caused the closure of the Warburton Highway.

The Bureau of Meteorology issued a minor flood warning at 8.30pm for the Merri Creek at Coburg and Fitzroy, saying the creek was rising quickly in those suburbs.

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