Storm batters Bega Valley

PARTS of the Bega district were hit with a spectacular display of mother nature’s power when a severe lightning and thunderstorm turned into a torrent of destructive hail on Saturday afternoon.

In what was an eventful afternoon, fire fighters were called into action and stock losses occurred after severe lightning struck bush and farm land.

Beef cattle farmer Stan West was left with stock losses after lightning struck a tree and cattle sheltering underneath on his Cooper’s Gully Rd property.

Three cows in calf, one vealer and a bull worth $2000 were killed, causing at least $4000 in stock loss.

“It’s very unusual, but I have heard of this happening around here in the past,” Mr West said.

Heavy hail caused problems with visibility on the roads, blocked roof gutters and drains and left the leaves of trees and plants shredded, while animals without shelter or protection took what refuge they could find under trees to avoid the sting of the large hail stones.

Garry and Carol Cooper’s garden on Snowy Mountains Highway was hit hard.

“It got hammered,” Mr Cooper said, “my wife took photos of the kids holding the hail stones and some of them were almost as big as the palm of their hand.

“A lot of the tomatoes and vegetables I was growing to enter in the Bega Show are now damaged.

“I still have some, but I won’t be able to enter as many as I would have liked.”

Mr Cooper was not home at the time the hail storm hit his property.

As fire mitigation officer for the Far South Coast, coordinator of the Remote Area Fire Team (RAFT) and volunteer fire fighter, he was involved in a RAFT helicopter winch training exercise at Numbugga along with Lindsay and Brock Scullin.

The training exercise turned into reality as lightning strikes sparked a number of fires.

The team was initially called to Brogo, however as the fire was on the edge of open country, fire brigade ground crews from Brogo and Quaama were able to deal with the situation.

The helicopter then flew to a lightning strike reported at Mumbulla Mountain, but fierce hail forced the pilot to pull out, leaving crews from Tarraganda and Jellat Fire brigades to deal with that fire.

It was during the return trip to Numbugga at about 4pm that smoke was observed on the horizon over the escarpment in Wadbilliga National Park, 35 kilometres north west of Bega.

Once lowered the RAFT team set to work putting in a hand tool line about 150 metres around the fire, while the helicopter returned to base at the Quaama sportsground to refuel and pick up a water bucket to bomb the burning stumps and hot edges of the fire until it was contained.

By 7.30pm the team was being winched back out of the fire zone.

“We had just finished conducting helicopter winch training and we could see a storm coming through so we hung on to the helicopter for an hour,” Mr Cooper said.

“It could have been a lot bigger, so it was a good save on the day,” Mr Cooper said. 

The fire was handed over to the National Parks and Wildlife Service for mop up and monitoring.

The afternoon storm followed a hot and humid day with Bega reaching a top of 34.2 degrees.

Rainfall, like the hail, was selective about where it fell.

Figures varied, with the townships of Bega and Tathra recording 42mm from backyard rain gauges, while the official rainfall figure for Bega to 9am on Sunday was 23.2mm.

In some towns and villages there was light rain or a show of lightning and thunder in the distance, while others remained dry.

For those who did get the rain it was a welcome relief, especially for farmers, and has added some much needed flow to what were increasingly becoming dry river and creek beds.

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