Lismore warned by the Bureau of Meteorology in the middle of the night to evacuate

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On Sunday afternoon, emergency services personnel carried out their first door-to-door operation, asking lowland residents of North Lismore and South Lismore whether they would stay or go. Residents told the Herald that they were not advised to leave. Most chose to stay based on the flood height forecast and went to bed expecting the water to peak under their homes sometime after 6 a.m.

MP for Lismore Janelle Saffin said there was clear contention between the SES and the Bureau of Meteorology over issuing warnings. She said their messages needed to be timely and better communicated, even telling the public they don’t know how treacherous the weather can be.

“A former SES controller from Northern Rivers, who now lives in Queensland, called me before the flood to warn me of the threat posed by the low pressure system moving south,” she said. declared. “But the office and SES didn’t seem to be treating it as something urgent, and then it got really urgent when it was too late.

Severe flooding hits Lismore, March 1, 2022.Credit:Elise Derwin

“I know a lot of people went to bed based on the given flood height predictions. If we told people there’s a rain bomb above our heads, and we don’t know how it’s going to act in the middle of the night, we might have seen a lot of people stay awake this night or even leave.

Lismore Mayor Steve Krieg said the warnings to residents were insufficient and too late, and the community had prepared for what had been expected.

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“Everyone was aware that a major low pressure system was hovering off the coast,” he said. “Had they told us there was potential for it to move through Lismore overnight and no one could reach us as a result, it would have seen a lot more people move to more land. students.”

After the flood, residents expressed anger over inaccurate warnings and inadequate forecasts from the SES and bureau, which repeatedly underestimated the amount of rain that would fall and the extent of the flood. Office flood forecasts are said to be accurate to within 30 centimeters, 70% of the time.

The SES relies on these forecasts to decide whether and when to issue warnings and evacuation orders for particular communities that may be affected by flooding.

A senior multi-agency response representative working within the SES Incident Control Center in Lismore said he believed on Sunday evening and Monday morning that by the time the SES received briefings from the office it had been overtaken by the rapidly changing event.

“The information transmitted to the SES was too slow,” he said. “It caused them to make some false assumptions and after two or three hours it would be updated with these massive changes. This created a lot of confusion in the community because the information was not up to date. This is where the failure happened.

Key office staff embedded at SES Wollongong headquarters, whose job is to ‘articulate forecast uncertainty’ and help SES understand the possible impact of flooding, also returned home at 5pm on Sunday. hours. The meteorologist and hydrologist positions were created after a review of the 2017 Lismore flood, which recommended working with the SES “for the duration of the event”.

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In a statement to Heraldthe bureau admitted those workers returned home at 5 p.m., but said a team of other forecasters and hydrologists were working around the clock to model flood behavior and issue forecasts before and during the flood, for a number of catchments across New South Wales and Queensland.

A group of residents and business people told the Herald that the community needs regular and up-to-date forecasts and observations during a flood to make informed decisions, but that the provision of information by the office and the SES in February and during the 2017 flood was slow, infrequent and did not reflect what locals were seeing for themselves in local rivers and streams.

Lismore Citizens Flood Review Group Coordinator Beth Trevan requested hourly updates during a flood, issued by local SES staff. “That’s how it worked very successfully for generations until control of all messaging was introduced from SES state headquarters from 2010,” she said.

Since the flood in February and a second in March, it has further emerged that warning systems in Lismore – including rain gauges and river height gauges used by the office to inform its flood forecast – were broke down or failed in the midst of the crisis. In some critical areas, gauges were non-existent.

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Three days before the February disaster, the NSW Department of Planning and Environment rejected Lismore City Council’s request for a $100,000 grant to improve its flood warning system. The proposed works – new rain gauges and river height gauges, CCTV cameras of local waterways and a “community flood dashboard” – were deemed “premature”.

Barbara Rugendyke and Jerry Vanclay, professors at Southern Cross University, report that almost a fifth of the Wilsons River watershed is not covered by rain gauges and rain gauges, hampering real-time flood forecasting . The mayors of Northern Rivers have made similar complaints.

“The true volume of water involved in the Lismore floods remains unknown, and current estimates were likely grossly underestimated,” Prof Vanclay said.

“What they lack is very localized heavy rain, which sends impulses downriver, and which can have a huge impact on the outcome.”

Jane Golding, head of risk preparedness and response at the office, told a NSW Parliament inquiry into the floods that the location and operation of gauge cover, which belong to the office, councils and other agencies, should be reviewed. Explaining the bureau’s performance on February 28, she said meteorology was an imprecise science.

“Predicted rainfall did not capture the end of the event,” she said. “We looked at many different forms of computer models. None of them really caught – none of them caught 775 millimeters in the upper reaches of the Lismore. The upper range for northern rivers was between 200 and 400 millimeters.

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