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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Jeff Masters: Deadly flash flood hits Australia, rainfall in Queensland most ever recorded in 111 years, since records began

Deadly flash flood hits Australia

by Dr. Jeff Masters, Wunderground, wunderblog, January 11, 2011


Flood-weary Queensland, Australia, suffered a new flooding disaster yesterday when freak rains of six inches fell in just 30 minutes near Toowoomba. The resulting flash flood killed nine people and left 59 missing. The flood waters poured into the Brisbane River, causing it to overflow, and significant flooding of low-lying areas in Brisbane, Australia's third largest city with some 2 million people, is expected on Thursday. 

As I discussed last week, Australia had its wettest spring (September-November) since records began 111 years ago, with some sections of coastal Queensland receiving over 4 feet (1200 mm) of rain. Rainfall in Queensland and all of eastern Australia in December was the greatest on record, and the year 2010 was the rainiest year on record for Queensland. The ocean waters surrounding Australia were the warmest on record during 2010, and these exceptionally warm waters allowed much higher amounts of water vapor to evaporate into the atmosphere, helping fuel the heavy rains. 

The record warm ocean temperatures were due to a combination of global warming and the moderate-to-strong La Niña event that has been in place since July. Queensland typically has its rainiest years when La Niña events occur, due to the much warmer than average ocean temperatures that occur along the coast. 

Beginning in December, the Queensland floods have killed at least 19, done $5 billion in damage, and flooded an area the size of Germany and France combined.

Figure 2. Remarkable 5-minute YouTube video showing the sad fate of a row of parked cars when a nearby small stream experiences a flash flood, sweeping away dozens of the cars. A note to the wise: Two minutes into the video, we see a man enter the flash flood to save his car. He is successful, but his actions were extremely risky -- most flash flood deaths occur when cars with people inside get swept away. I would not have attempted to save my car in that situation.


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