Melbourne was plunged into darkness and a roof was torn off a motel in Morwell as a wild tornado-like storm swept across Victoria, prompting hundreds of emergency calls.
Melbourne’s CBD was temporarily plunged into darkness on Thursday afternoon as storm clouds rolled across the story, with a fierce storm battering the eastern suburbs.
The fast-moving trough came in from the west, with ominous shelf clouds warning many of the thunderstorm’s arrival.
Thousands of households spent hours off the grid on Thursday night.
Victorians are now busy cleaning up across the state, with the wet and wild start to summer stretching SES volunteers to the limit.
The service was hit with more than 600 calls for assistance in the 24 hours to 9am on Friday.
Fallen trees caused the most problems around the state over this period, with 482 calls for help, while 90 people requested assistance for building damage and eight needed help with flooding.
The SES Morwell unit was the busiest throughout the night, responding to almost 80 calls, while Maroondah, Manningham and Knox were also hit hard by the storms.
A SES spokesperson said the service had experienced the busiest winter and spring in its history, following severe weather events in June and October.
People have been asked to avoid areas recently affected by the storms due to the risk of trees falling without warning.
SES state agency commander Alistair Drayton urged the community to “remain vigilant” and stay away from large trees in affected areas.
“Our volunteers have had a busy night, with several units responding to calls for help for trees over their homes or vehicles,” he said.
“While it may still be wet out there, it’s a reminder to never drive through flood water.
“It can take just 15cm of water for a small car to float, and may be the last decision you make.
The weekend will provide some relief for Victorians, with mild and mostly sunny conditions forecast until Monday.
The Bureau of Meteorology has reissued a minor flood warning for the Murray River near Corowa, with water levels remaining elevated after peaking on Wednesday morning.
The SES received 224 calls for help in the six hours to 6.30pm, with most relating to fallen trees and building damage.
The roof was torn off the Parkside Motel in Morwell.
Volunteers closed the road under the York St in South Melbourne to prevent reckless drivers from driving through floodwaters and buses replaced trains between Greensborough and Hurstbridge due to storm damage.
The strongest wind gusts were recorded in Frankston (100km/h), Redesdale (96km/h) and Swan Hill (91km/h).
BOM senior forecaster Chris Arvier said while Melbourne’s southeast was lashed with the most severe storms, no section of the city was spared.
Following reports of “mini tornadoes” in Dandenong South, Mr Arvier said it was likely the city had been subjected to “weak tornado activity”.
The emergency alert issued for Melbourne earlier on Thursday was for the second day in a row, less than 24 hours after heavy rain and hail sparked flash flooding in Melbourne.
“Severe storms are approaching the Melbourne area from the west,” the alert read.
“They may produce damaging winds and large hail.”
A thunderstorm asthma alert was also issued for Central Victoria, including Melbourne, with pollen levels rated high to extreme.
Mr Arvier said the humid and warm conditions had caused the “unstable conditions”.
Mr Arvier said the storms were not unusual for this time of year.
“The storm season for Victoria is late spring to early summer,” he said.
He said the rainfall of Wednesday was “very hit and miss across the city”, with Maribyrnong seeing rainfall totals of more than 40mm while the eastern suburbs recorded just a few millimetres.
“We did see flash flooding with that rain falling in a very short amount of time,” he said.
“We also saw observations large hail through parts of Western Melbourne as well.
“So quite significant thunderstorms, there were strong wind gusts too.”
The State Emergency Service received more than 230 calls for help before 7.30pm on Wednesday, with most relating to building damage, flash flooding and fallen trees.
The worst impacted suburbs were in the city’s west, including Sunbury, Essendon and Maribyrnong, while the wild conditions caused significant delays on Melbourne’s roads.
Car crashes, flooded routes and extra-cautious driving led to many major traffic jams – with 15km commutes across the city taking up to three hours.
A train also derailed in Maribyrnong about 4.45pm due to the severe conditions.
More than 6000 homes also lost power.
Melbourne Airport recorded a gust of 106km/h while Fawkner Beacon saw 96km/h winds.
The SES urged Victorians to be extra careful this season as the state entered its second La Nina summer.
“With catchments wetter and water storages fuller than in 2020 — along with our experience last year — we know Victorians are at increased risk from flooding,” chief operations officer Tim Wiebusch said.
“Please don’t drive through floodwater, it may be the last decision you make.
“Even if you think you know the road, you can’t see the extent to which it has been washed away. It only takes 15cm of floodwater to cause a car to lose traction, which sadly is how most people lose their lives during a flood.”
Major flooding also hit most of Queensland, with a 73-year-old man’s body pulled from a ute trapped in floodwaters near Toowoomba.
Originally published as Storm clouds plunge Melbourne into darkness
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