3 December 2020

Severe storm leaves trail of destruction across Hilltops

| Edwina Mason
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This is the scene that greeted Paul Kaveney of Thuddungra when he returned home after Tuesday’s storm – one of two giant sheds smashed to pieces. Photo: Paul Kaveney.

A cease harvest SMS alert was the first sign of things to come as Graincorp then closed all silos and farmers shut down their machinery ahead of a destructive storm that yesterday barrelled through the Hilltops Region.

In a front that swept across the entire shire, the north and south were hit simultaneously in a five minute burst, plunging towns, villages, businesses and residents into darkness and practically sweeping farm infrastructure into the Land of Oz.

READ ALSO Storm damages homes, brings down trees and cuts power in southern NSW

Beating an unrelenting path from Bribbaree in the west, through Thuddungra, Greenethorpe, Monteagle to Wirrimah and Bendick Murrell in the north of the shire, the most destructive arm thundered on to Boorowa, Rye Park and Crookwell and beyond, scattering field bins, silos, sheds, trees, trucks, rooftops, powerlines, prized grain and oilseed crops.


Don Wilkinson got more than he bargained for as he transported students back to Bribbaree from Young yesterday, having to weave through fallen trees and limbs on the 50 kilometre journey. Photo: Don Wilkinson.

Don Wilkinson was at the wheel of the Bribbaree school bus as he cool-headedly zig-zagged through scattered limbs and fallen trees during the 50 kilometre journey from Young post-storm yesterday.

“It was quite difficult and very slow,” he said, “the damage was horrific from Thuddungra and towards Bribbaree – it was a mess.”

“Luckily some trucks went through before me and they just barged through, which made it passable,” he said.

To the boggle-eyed students on board it was a spectacle they’ll relay to their grandchildren. For their parents, the logistics of pickup were a whole other thing – behind front end loaders and others travelling across paddocks, by ute and then by foot, and in a bid to retrieve their kids.

“Luckily I have all the mobile numbers of all the parents so if there was a problem we could sort it out,” Don said.

It was a community effort indeed as neighbours combined to clear the damage.

Thuddungra farmer Paul Kaveney was on his way into Young to see the accountant as the storm blasted through and with it news of a fire.

“There were two fires and then the rain and wind hit and by the time we got back we couldn’t get in because the trees were on the road,” he said.

The news was a whole lot worse when he did get home. The storm, not fire, had upended two sheds. Thuddungra Fire Brigade took swift care of the fires.

Beneath Paul’s sheds – trucks, hay balers, horse float and other machinery was severely damaged. The hay was lost. His crops, listed among the Bribbaree Show Society’s 2020 Top Crops, also sustained hail damage.

“I was shellshocked,” he said, “especially with the big shed and all the damage to machinery, it’s heartbreaking.”

It’s not his first time – it’s probably his fourth – in a zone he describes as a gasoline alley.

Another farmer in the storm’s path lost his entire a-grade canola crop, Anne Lenard of Bendick Murrell is living in her caravan having lost the roof of her house. Hilltops Council has invoked Stage Three water restrictions across the shire with power yet to be restored in many locations.


Trees were cut in half as the wind gusts reached over 90 kilometres per hour in Tuesday’s destructive storm. Photo: Anne West.

Greatest impact has been on cherry producers who are scrambling to refrigerate their harvested fruit.

Local councillor Tony Flanery called in the services of a refrigerated truck to save his 60 lugs of cherries, but other orchardists have been using generators to keep the cool rooms running.

The Bureau of Meterology was unable to shed any light on the repeat pattern of this force of nature, just that it was a severe thunderstorm with small hail and damaging wind gusts above 90 kilometres per hour.

“Particularly in Spring and Summer we will often see this severe sort of thunderstorm activity in NSW caused by a low pressure trough moving throughout NSW,” said meteorologist Bimal Kc said.

The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) said lightning strikes caused the two fires at Thuddungra burning around one hectare in each instance. Another fire was reported yesterday near Bribbaree, with a tree fire and running grass fire north of Stockinbingal, razing 20 hectares of a barley crop.

South West Slopes RFS Inspector Tom McDevitt has reminded farmers to remain vigilant for fires in the days after extreme weather events of this nature.

“Following a band of lightning that’s come through, even if we’ve had significant rainfall… in the days following as the days warm up and wind picks up – anything smouldering in some timber has the potential to become a running grass fire again,” he said.

“So we ask people if lightning has gone through to go and inspect their property and for at least two days monitor on the horizon and if they sight anything call 000 immediately”.

Inspector McDevitt has praised local farmers for their compliance with their cease harvest alerts.

“We liaise strongly with rural landholders before putting that advice out,” he said, “we like to see headers going and farmers get their crop off rather than hold them up, but some days we need to make that call and we don’t take it lightly”.

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