Australia: Queensland braces for flooding, police declare emergency

The emergency situation along the overflowing Balonne River from Beardmore Dam to the Queensland-New South Wales border has already unindated towns of Charleville, Mitchell and Surat

The south-west towns of St George and Dirranbandi prepare for floods from the Balonne River that is touching a peak of 12.5 metres following heavy downpour on Sunday. The Queensland police have declared an emergency for St George on Tuesday morning.

The town of Dirranbandi is also facing severe floods, prompting the local police to warn residents not use personal watercraft. The emergency has been extended along the Balonne River from Beardmore Dam to the Queensland-New South Wales border. Already towns across Queensland's southern towns Charleville, Mitchell and Surat have been flooded last weekend, reports said.

The Beardmore Dam, which supplies water to St George, was almost empty at the beginning of February but was filled this weekend. "In 10 days Beardmore Dam increased by 94%, from 6% to 100%." It is expected that inflows will provide more than 12 months' urban water supply to St George this time but not without devastation that took place a decade ago in 2010 and 2011.

Climate change and Australia

A study by a team of US and Australian researchers showed that long-term warming of the Indian and Pacific oceans played havoc on Australia's Queensland. The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, said the floods in Queensland in 2010 and 2011 claimed 35 lives, caused $2.38 billion damage, flooded 28,000 homes and left 100,000 people without power.

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So much rain fell on Australia that it led to a rare filling of Lake Eyre, a large lake system. "The sea surface temperatures around Australia during 2010/2011 were on average 0.5°C warmer than they were 60 years ago," said lead author Caroline Ummenhofer, a physical oceanographer with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

Ocean warming and impact on Australia

Both a strong La Niña event and long-term ocean warming contributed to the unusually warm ocean conditions around Australia in 2010/2011, said co-author Prof Matthew England from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science.

"Australia has long been acknowledged as a country of extremes but this research suggests extreme rainfall events may become far more frequent in a warming world," said Ummenhofer. "As we come into climate change talks in Paris, this research offers yet another incentive for countries around the world to take action to forestall global warming."