THE state’s eyes are on Gippsland, as authorities predict flooding in the state’s east similar to the devastating 2012 and 2007 floods.
An east coast low forecast for the next 24 to 48 hours is expected to bring potentially major flooding, with emergency services flagging the Latrobe, Macalister, Thomson and Mitchell catchments as areas of particular concern.
Bureau of Meteorology emergency services meteorologist Kevin Parkyn said the “unfolding severe weather event” would affect the whole state, “but particularly Gippsland in terms of flooding”.
Mr Parkyn said what was about to unfold in the next 24 to 48 hours was beyond a severe weather event typical of Victorian winter, which usually involved a low pressure system bringing a cold front from the west.
Forecast to begin Wednesday, a ‘cyclogenesis event’ is expected to uniquely intensify over the Tasman Sea – otherwise known as an east coast low.
“East coast low is a phrase or a term that’s quite common and known by the Gippsland community and the emergency services, because it’s these events, these east coast lows, that result in heavy rains into Gippsland,” he said.
Mr Parkyn said this east coast low, forecast to develop on Wednesday and intensify Wednesday night into Thursday, would potentially result in major flooding in parts of Gippsland.
“We’re expecting falls of 20 to 50 millimetres, locally a little bit higher through Gippsland, and what that will do is saturate catchments through Gippsland,” he said.
“As that rainfall intensifies Wednesday night into Thursday, that’s when we’re really concerned, because the rain rates are heavy enough for flash flooding through Gippsland – particularly the foothills, Baw Baw plateau, the Strzelecki Ranges are a particular concern.
“By Thursday lunchtime, we could have seen cumulative totals right across the region of 100mm, with as much as 200mm in some of these more elevated locations.
“All that rain will flow into the rivers, the catchments through Gippsland, and we’ve got a flood watch issued for that – particularly for the Latrobe, the Thomson, for the Macalister, Avon and Mitchell rivers.
“They’re the ones that we’re keeping an eye on, because once that rain hits those saturated catchments, they’ll flow into the rivers, the rivers will rise, and that will result in major flooding, potentially, from Thursday onwards.”
“These are very dynamic, rapidly-evolving situations – in fact we expect more than one low centre to wrap around the southern coast of New South Wales then punch into Gippsland, bringing intense rainfall.
“It might be a pulsing-type event, where the rain eases and then intensifies over the 48 hour period from Wednesday to Thursday, before weakening, although continuing to produce rain of a lesser intensity on Friday and Saturday.
“The major flood threat probably starts on the Thursday, but continues into the weekend as that water makes its way down into the [Gippsland] Lakes, and in fact, there’s even a reasonable likelihood we’ll see some sort of flooding in and around the Lakes area.”
Mr Parkyn said it wasn’t just the rain authorities held concerns for, but the wind in the system could cause havoc more broadly across the state.
“Damaging winds across the state on Wednesday will intensify Wednesday night, potentially reaching destructive – 125 kilometres per hour or more – about the alpine area,” he said.
“It’s that overnight period on Wednesday night into Thursday we’re quite concerned about.
“The combination of saturated soils, a water-laden canopy and these damaging wind gusts suggest widespread vegetation damage, that will impact roads and potentially impact people’s safety along those roads.”
State Emergency Service Victoria chief officer of operations, Tim Wiebusch, said this was the first time residents in Gippsland and the state’s north-east had seen major flood warnings in a number of years.
“The last time we saw an event of this nature in Gippsland was around 2012, and before that, 2007,” he said.
In 2012, the Princes Highway was flooded between Rosedale and Traralgon, Loch Sport and Hollands Landing were evacuated, and homes and businesses in Tinamba were sandbagged to mitigate the damage, as both Glenmaggie and Cowwarr weirs each spilled nearly 60,000 megalitres of floodwater.
In 2007, one person was killed, livestock was swept away in the Macalister River floodwaters in the Glenmaggie and Maffra areas, and millions of dollars of damage was caused to local homes, businesses and farms, as well as a significant loss of public and private assets.
Mr Wiebusch said the SES was most concerned about riverine flooding in the Latrobe, Macalister, Thomson and Mitchell catchments, as well as the Traralgon Creek.
“Our preparations at the moment are about alerting the community to the onset of this weather event, and making sure they have a full awareness of the impacts they might see, whether it’s heavy rainfall, flash flooding, riverine flooding, and we could even see landslides in fire-affected areas.
“After that, people will need to prepare their homes, and we will be setting up sandbag collection points as they’re required in the coming days.”
Mr Wiebusch said the number one killer on roads during floods was people attempting to drive through flood waters.
“We can’t emphasise enough – do not enter flood waters in your vehicle, because this might be the last decision you actually make,” he said.
“It only takes 15 centimetres of flood water for a small vehicle to float.
“We’re urging all Victorians to make sure they have an alternative route plan for when they’re out and around – particularly in Gippsland and the north-east of the state, where we may see this heavy rainfall cause flash flooding, but in subsequent days, riverine flooding as well.
“We’re asking all Victorians to heed particular advice around being careful on our roads over the next 24 to 48 hours, in particular, for trees and other debris that may come down over roads.”
Mr Wiebusch urged people to ensure they had access to the latest emergency information.
“Now is the time for people to take preparations, think about their plans, and think about those alternate routes,” he said.
“You need to have your phone charged, you need to have a battery-operated radio or access to a car radio to make sure you can stay in touch with our emergency broadcasters, and check in on the latest information via emergency.vic.gov.au
“If people find themselves in need of emergency assistance during this flood and storm event, they can contact the SES on 132 500.”
Mr Wiebusch said despite COVID-19 restrictions, people should still evacuate if needed.
To keep up to date with the latest emergency information, visit emergency.vic.gov.au or download the VicEmergency app.
For flood or storm emergency assistance from the SES, phone 132 500.
For life threatening emergencies, phone 000.