News, weather warning

King tides, drenching rain, and wild weather lash the northern suburbs

King tides at Waniora Point, Bulli today. Picture: Wilbur Campbell
Thirroul beach

THE Bureau of Meteorology is warning of significant rainfall and the risk of flash flooding over the next few days, with the potential for landslides or falling trees, and coastal erosion on beaches and foreshore areas.

Residents are advised to be extra cautious, and stay out of any floodwater.

Last weekend, heavy rains saw roads and gardens awash as the downpour contributed to some 132.5m rain recorded in Russell Vale between Saturday and Tuesday. This, added to the monthly total since January 2022 means more than 700mm of rain has fallen this year across the city. This is more than half the average annual rainfall falling within the first three months of the year.

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the city is prone to flash-flooding – and this is in part due to the escarpment backdrop.

“In our northern suburbs, where there is a shorter distance between the mountains and the sea, we can see the impact of flash flooding quickly,” he said.

“The fact that the water dispersed relatively quickly shows that the drainage systems were working – they were just overwhelmed by the sheer volume of water in a short period of time.”

Cr Bradbery said plans for upgrading catchments across the city, include Hewitts Creek, Thirroul and Collins Creek, Woonona. Options include debris control structures near stormwater drains, protection works like raised embankments and detention basis and revising planning controls.

Council will be asking the community for feedback recommended options for managing flood risk in the Hewitts Creek and Towradgi Creek catchments. These options can include debris control structures near stormwater drains, protection works like raised embankments and detention basis and revising planning controls.

Cr Bradbery said Council have moved forward on the design of debris control structures and priority flood mitigation works at high-risk locations, including around Ursula Road and Bulli High School and McMahon Street Fairy Meadow, as identified in its flood risk management plans.

“We saw some pretty dramatic images of stranded cars and flooded roads in and around Thirroul and Woonona over the weekend,’’ “We’re fortunate it happened during the day and people were able to see the water accumulate at low points and watch out for each other and their neighbours. We’re also fortunate that the rain stopped when it did and that the water was able to clear through drains relatively quickly.

Cr Bradbery said the already-saturated ground also contributed to the flash flooding incident.

“The city is just so water-logged because of the prolonged and constant weather pattern we’re experiencing at the moment. You can see it if you were to go and stand in one of our sports fields – the ground is so spongy and soggy,’’ Cr Bradbery said.

“This is why we’re appealing to people to take care and be cautious over the coming days. Watch out for your neighbours, have a conversation with your family about what you would do if you needed to evacuate and please stay out of any floodwater.’’

Council crews have been out on the road this week, inspecting the city’s creeks, culverts and drainage systems as part of high-risk wet weather events practices. From the northern most point at Helensburgh to the southern boundaries at Windang and Yallah, Council maintain some 800km of drainage and other associated assets, including more than 30,000 stormwater pits, to help move water safely across the city.

“We have invested heavily in our city’s essential stormwater assets over the past 12 months alone we have relined a significant number of stormwater pipes to ensure they will continue to convey stormwater efficiently, reconstructed key culverts and built priority drainage upgrade works,’’ Cr Bradbery said.

 “This supports our residents in times where we experience weather patterns like we have recently experienced across the city where we see a deluge of rainwater in a short period of time.’’

On Saturday, Council’s floodplain staff were on the ground inspecting the aftermath of the storm and talking with locals in the northern suburbs about their experiences. This information, along with advice from industry experts, is fed into Council’s detailed floodplain documents which include flood studies, floodplain risk management studies and floodplain risk management plans.

“The flood studies are an important tool for Council to draw upon when it comes to understanding flood behaviour and improving our city’s response to stormwater run-off,’’ Cr Bradbery said.

“These are one tool we draw upon to guide our works into the future and including works like new debris control structures. They’re not standalone guides either – they’re interlinked to other key documents like Council’s recently-adopted Climate Change Adaptation Plan which clearly sets out that weather patterns like this are going to be a more regular occurrence as a consequence of our changing environment. Our flood risk is managed holistically with other considerations like coastal erosion events, extreme heat and the risk of bushfires.’’

Huge waves pound Waniora Point, Bulli today. Picture: Wilbur Campbell.

Cr Bradbery said while Wollongong’s experiences of the significant rain event is different from that in the state’s north – in areas like Lismore that have been devastated by flood waters – it is presenting new challenges for the city to manage.

For example, the weather conditions have seen significant beach erosion at several of the city’s popular beaches including Woonona, City Beach and Bulli. The ongoing wet weather and heavy surf has meant Council have not been able to bring heavy machinery onto the beaches safely to flatten out the scarping, which is in some places up to four metres high.

The city’s 42 sport fields are sodden and the grass is unable to be cut as the pitches would be severely damaged if we were to attempt to mow them.

And in Helensburgh, Council is investigating how to protect grave sites that are up to 120 years old with the rainwater washing away the topsoil in between a number of sites.

“Helensburgh Cemetery is a really good example of the challenges we’re facing as a city in face of these difficult weather conditions,’’ Cr Bradbery said.

“We’ve got an access road and grave sites that date back 70 to 120 years and the recent consistent and heavy rainfall is causing erosion to the sandy topsoil close to their headstones. We’ve put temporary measures in place to protect the site, and we are now looking into long-term actions that will protect these important resting sites into the future.

“This heavy, consistent and regular rainfall is not like anything we’ve seen before and we are doing our best to maintain and care for our community, our beaches, buildings, roads and facilities but it’s a balancing act. Particularly, when we’re seeing rain predicted on the long-range weather forecast for months to come and wind conditions over the next few days. I also want to thank our staff and contractors for their efforts in keeping the city going in challenging working conditions.

“However, the challenges we’re facing as a city right now in terms of flood water management is nothing compared to the northern parts of our state. Our hearts go out to those in Byron Bay, Lismore and surrounds. It’s just awful what those communities are facing right now.’’


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About Mick Roberts

A journalist, writer and historian, Mick Roberts specialises in Australian cultural history, particularly associated with the Australian hotel and liquor industry. Mick has had an interest in revealing the colourful story of Australian pubs and associated industries for over 30 years. He is working on a comprehensive history of the hotel and liquor industry in the Illawarra region of NSW. Besides writing a number of history books, Mick managed several community newspapers. He has been editor of the Wollongong Northern News, The Bulli Times, The Northern Times, The Northern Leader and The Local - all located in the Wollongong region. As a journalist he has worked for Rural Press, Cumberland (News Limited), the Sydney city newspaper, City News, and Torch Publications based in Canterbury Bankstown, NSW.

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