When we first visited Wagga in early December 2010, it was a bit of a disaster zone. The 10 year drought had just ended, not with a whimper but with the skies around New South Wales opening up and wreaking havoc on the dams and rivers and the towns through which they flow. On that visit, we saw the Murrumbidgee hit almost record levels; the Wiradjuri Bridge became impassable, North Wagga was cut off from the rest of the city, and on one evening Fitzmaurice Street became a lake. The library and art gallery both suffered severe damage when the Wollundry Lagoon overshot its banks.
Laurence, in her guest post last week, briefly mentioned rain and a possible flood. Her introduction to Wagga was similar to ours – wet. So in the words of Yogi Berra, “It’s deja vu all over again;” in the words of Annie Lennox “Here comes the rain again, Falling on my head like a memory.”
Or maybe Peter Gabriel said it best: “Lord, here comes the flood.”
Laurence was being very polite in her description of what we did here. We had a lot of plans – Wagga and regional Australia can be very interesting and fun, even for a 13 year old girl – but they got scuttled by some of the biggest downpours in 130 years (!) in New South Wales.
When our guests arrived in Wagga on Tuesday evening, the weather had just started to deteriorate. The weekend had been 35 and sunny. Tuesday it was about 23 and we got about 15 mm of rain…that was a good day for the week! New South Wales was getting hit with a series of rain events that were breaking records. On Wednesday, one of the little towns near by (Coolamon) got over 120 mm, for example. Young (our fruit heaven) got about that much over Tuesday and Wednesday. Roads all over the place were closed, rivers were spilling over…everything was unpleasant and soggy in the surrounding vicinity.
Wagga didn’t seem too bad though. It was raining a lot, and hard at times, but most of the roads were still passable. We had to detour once on the way home from work, and some of the roads we regularly bike on were under water but we weren’t riding anyway.
We had plans to go to Canberra for the weekend; there is a nature reserve just south of there where we hoped we could see a koala. But quite early in the week it was closed down, and the rivers in the Canberra area were among the first to be predicted to hit flood levels. And there was a lot of rain in the forecast: most predictions said anywhere between 100 and 300 mm over the course of 4 days. They couldn’t get too precise, because storms like this are often quite localized, but in general you could figure that wherever you went would be wet. So we did a bit of thinking and decided it wasn’t worth it. We cancelled our hotels, changed their flight, and hunkered down in Wagga as it poured on Wednesday and Thursday here and all around us. Over those two days, we got about 100+ mm of rain, which is a lot in a country where the land is hard and the water doesn’t soak in well.
And it wasn’t just us avoiding the rain. Even the kangaroos and parrots, which are normally quite abundant, were in hiding. We checked a couple of times in the places where we often see ‘roos grazing, but they weren’t there. They must have been sleeping under some bushes somewhere, trying to keep dry. Hence, the excursion to the Wagga Zoo to see animals that we should have been able to see au naturel. At least when we were there we did see some free-range rosellas hanging out in the trees. Laurence enjoyed the captive kangas and emus and other birds, but we more enjoyed the fact that we could show them some of the real native birds out in the wild…for us, those few wild rosellas in the gum trees were more important than the zoo animals under them.
And, luckily, we took advantage of the one nice day (well, sort of nice – it was still cloudy and unseasonably cold, but at least it didn’t rain) to go to the zoo, because early Saturday it started to rain again. By the time our visitors left for Sydney (just after lunch), it was coming down in buckets, and by about 9 pm that night, we had another 50 mm or so. And things were starting to go beyond the point of saturation. Various places around the region were flooded at various levels, including parts of Wagga. The NSW government says the Murrumbidgee hits ‘minor flooding’ levels at 7.3 metres deep; by 10 pm, it was at 7.49 m, so obviously starting to spill over its banks. Moderate flooding depth is 9 m, major 9.5 m. Throughout the week, the State Emergency Service (NSW SES) kept saying that we might hit the 9 m level. On Saturday evening, they admitted that because of the amount of rain falling, filling the dams upstream, they really couldn’t predict what might happen and started issuing evacuation warnings (not orders to evacuate, just notices to be ready that it might be coming) for some of the local towns such as Lockhart (we liked Lockhart!), Gundagai, Hanwood, Tumut, etc…
And as Dan works on this on Saturday evening at close to 11 pm, we’ve had close to 170 mm of rain in Wagga in 4 days. Other towns nearby have had less, or a lot more. The Lockhart warning issued at 8 pm has, 2 hours later, been revised to a full-blown evacuation for part of the town. And it is still raining…
Over the past couple of weeks, we have been seriously looking at neighbourhoods where we might want to buy a house. We have to think long and hard about where we want to invest because, in the words of Maria McKee, “the water rushes through this town…” And, in the words of the
Red Hot Chili Peppers (Dan edit: Stevie Wonder), as we search for a house, we are “gonna keep trying till I reach the highest ground.”
Update: it is now Sunday morning and it continues to rain. It has slowed down though, and the forecast is for it to end today. We’re at 75 mm for the past 24 hours. In the first 4 days of March, we have received more rain than Wagga normally gets in January, February, and March combined. More towns nearby are being evacuated, including one (The Rock) where they are busing residents to Wagga because the highway isn’t safe for cars. And the river is over 8 m now, with no real end in sight.
And as we write…another town (Uranquinty) got an evacuation order.