La Niña brings an increased chance of above average rainfall for Australia’s north and east and a lingering risk of flooding for the months ahead
Flood waters continued to rise in the New South Wales town of Forbes, where there had been 10 flood rescues and more than 237 calls for help in the past 24 hours, including for a pregnant woman.
The woman, whose water broke on Friday, was transported across the middle of the river in Forbes to the town’s hospital by a local volunteer, where she could be cared for by doctors and nurses.
Many catchments across central NSW were not expected to peak until next week, while others, including the Murrumbidgee, Murray, Lachlan and Barwon rivers, would continue rising until late November.
It was bad news for towns already battling to contain rising flood waters. There were 23 flood emergency warnings in place across the state, including record flooding not seen since 1952 anticipated at Forbes.
The Lachlan River was sitting at 10.66 metres on Saturday afternoon and projected to reach a peak of 10.8 metres on Saturday evening or into Sunday. When it did, the water was expected to linger for days.
An evacuation for more than 1,000 residents had been in place since Wednesday, while on Saturday 300 additional beds were added to the Forbes evacuation centre.
“Rainfall over the past several days and weeks have caused renewed and prolonged flooding along the Lachlan River and its tributaries,” the Bureau of Meteorology said.
“The flood peak is currently nearing Mulyandry Creek upstream of Forbes. Major flooding is occurring at Forbes, where river levels may peak during Saturday, similar to the June 1952 flood (10.80 metres).
“This major flood peak is forecast to pass through Cottons Weir late Saturday.”
The NSW emergency services minister, Steph Cooke, said the blue skies were not cause for calm.
“We are continuing to see multiple flood risks across multiple river systems and communities today,” she said.
“We have nine major flood warnings across our river systems west of the divide today [and] more than 100 emergency warnings in place.“While we are experiencing a reprieve in the weather … the risk has not abated.”
The NSW SES southern zone deputy commander, Barry Griffiths, said it was difficult to project if the anticipated peak in Forbes would be worse than the floods of 1952.
“We have seen a number of floods move through the town and they behave differently every time,” he said. “Fingers crossed we do not reach that, but at the moment that is the information we have.”
Griffiths said concern remained for people continuing to drive through flood waters amid the treacherous conditions
“The roads are deteriorating under these conditions so nobody has seen these conditions before in the area,” he said.
“Even locals are getting caught out driving through crossings that they think are safe … people get sucked away when they hit a deep pothole, they get taken away. We urge people to stay away from flood water.“
It is extremely dangerous at the moment, it is full of debris.”
The member for Riverina, Michael McCormack, said it was a “nervous time for all” as the community waited for the river to reach its peak.
“This is a time of frustration, a time when community bands together like never before,” he said in Wagga Wagga.
“I get that businesses have had to close and I understand full well that farmers have lost crops and that will take a heavy toll on the bottom line.
“Many farmers expected a bumper harvest this year but that has been destroyed by the flood waters and that is so unfortunate. But you are not alone, and there will be help available.
”Wagga Wagga was continuing to experience major flooding higher than December 2010 after the Murrumbidgee peaked just over 9.7 metres on Friday. Residents in the town’s north remained under evacuation orders as the water lingered.
West of Wagga, the river was expected to reach a major flood level at Narrandera on Sunday.
The La Niña weather pattern had brought an increased chance of above average rainfall for Australia’s north and east and a lingering risk of flooding for the months ahead, the BoM reported in its latest climate driver update. Australia was not expected to experience a reprieve from La Niña until early 2023.