Environment

Sydney shivers as severe weather whips, soaks nation’s south-east

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Sydney shivered through its coldest day since last winter but dodged the worst of the wild weather that brought snow across the ranges and dumped record-breaking rain on parts of the country's south.

The Harbour City struggled to reach 17 degrees on Friday, with apparent temperatures stuck firmly in the single-digits. It was Sydney's first sub-20 degree day since last December.

"The main effect for Sydney from this system will be the wind not the rain," Jess Miskelly, a meteorologist from Weatherzone, said.

Cattle shelter from the snow at Black Springs in the NSW Central Tablelands.

Photo: Nick Moir

Westerly wind gusts topped 60km/h at elevated parts of the city. A shift to more southerly winds on Friday evening is expected to cause another burst of gusty conditions, this time for coastal regions.

The Bureau of Meteorology earlier issued a severe weather warning for damaging winds and surf for most of eastern NSW, including the coastline from Taree south to the Victorian border.

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Sydney avoided any rainfall on Friday but is likely to collect 2-8 millimetres on Saturday and 6-20 millimetres on Sunday, the first falls for May since a meagre 0.2 millimetre on the first of the month.

"Unfortunately, there's no significant rain I can see for eastern NSW [on the near-term forecasts]," Ms Miskelly said.

Precipitation was prominent elsewhere, though, with the Central Tablelands, especially Oberon and Blayney, covered in a light blanket of snow overnight.

Further falls were possible on Friday and into the weekend, although the lack of moisture in the cool air meant any dusting was likely to be lighter.

Record soaking

Hobart collected some of the most extreme conditions from the so-called cut-off low, that had spun north from the transpolar winds circling Antarctica.

The Tasmanian capital collected 129.2 millimetres of rain, which roughly tripled the previous May day record of 46.7 millimetres. It was the most in the city for any day since April 23, 1960, the bureau said.

The torrential downpour, which flooded parts of the city and even shifted vehicles, meant Hobart has already had its fourth wettest May in more than a century of records.

Record rainfall for May caused widespread turmoil in Hobart, Tasmania.

Photo: Supplied

Totals of 236.2 millimetres at kunanyi (Mount Wellington) and 226.4 at Leslie Vale were the second- and third-highest May daily totals on record for Tasmania, Blair Trewin, the bureau's senior climatologist, said.

Temperatures were on the cool side with record lows for this early in the season for several shorter-term sites in western Victoria and south-east South Australia.

"At longer-term sites, Nhill [in western Victoria] had its lowest maximum so early in the season since 1960, and Melbourne since 1970," Dr Trewin said.

Big surf

The big low will stir potentially damaging waves in excess of five metres on Saturday morning along stretches of the NSW coast south of Kiama.

"Localised damage and coastal erosion is possible in these areas," the bureau said.

Some big waves expected as the low-pressure system moves into the Tasman Sea.

Photo: Peter Braig

For Sydney's coastal region, waves reaching three to four metres are possible on Saturday, less severe than expected a few days ago.

Wave conditions and forecasts are available on the Manly Hydraulics Laboratory website.

While the warm spell that has given Sydney record temperatures for the first 4½ months may have been snapped, daytime temperatures will likely spring back to above-average levels from Saturday onwards.

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Peter Hannam

Peter Hannam is Environment Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. He covers broad environmental issues ranging from climate change to renewable energy for Fairfax Media.

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