Melbourne smoke haze: Air quality ‘very poor’ with flash flooding expected in the city
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Flash flooding is expected to hit Melbourne during peak hour as thunderstorms make their way towards the city.
While the rain will bring some relief from smoke, emergency services are now warning heavy rainfall and strong winds will create new dangers.
Bureau of Meteorology meteorologist Kevin Parkyn said a slow moving cool change would hit the city this afternoon.
“One of the time frames in particular we’re concerned about is between 4pm and 6pm in the Melbourne area peak hour,” he said.
“It’s exactly this time when this trough with the south-westerly change is going to be moving through the Melbourne metropolitan area.
“Stay tuned for those dark ominous clouds moving in from the north because they could unleash, producing heavy rainfall leading to flash flooding.”
Mr Parkyn said other severe storms were likely to impact the state’s northeast and would create problems at firegrounds.
“We’ve got reduced vegetation cover, there’s high concentrations of ash and very vulnerable landscape when it comes to short burst of heavy rainfall,” he said.
“We could see, very quickly, mudslides developing.
“We wouldn’t be surprised if in a number of waterways we see debris such as soil, trees and rocks that have come from the fire landscape.”
The last two days of heavy smoke has reduced the visibility at Melbourne Airport so much dozens of flights have had to be cancelled.
Strong winds coming in have exacerbated the problem as thunderstorms move into the city.
Some flights were still able to fly into the airport, but airborne delays were still occurring.
Travellers should double check their flight details and plan ahead where possible.
Bushfire smoke has continued to cause havoc across Victoria today, and authorities say any reprieve from this afternoon’s storms will be short-lived.
A third straight day of thick haze has blanketed Melbourne, with air quality levels deteriorating rapidly this morning.
The haze around the city appears less dense than it was yesterday; however, authorities are still warning people to stay indoors if possible and to avoid any vigorous exercise.
The CBD is currently rated as having “very poor” air quality after earlier being labelled “poor”.
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It comes as some tradies reportedly coughed up blood yesterday as construction companies faced calls for all outdoor work to halt during the smoke haze.
The CFMMEU urged employers yesterday morning to suspend “dangerous and unhealthy” outdoor work.
It said later in the day that while most sites closed down, work carried on in some locations, including on a Southbank project where a worker was taken away in an ambulance.
Tradies were also said to be coughing up blood on another work site.
Australia Post has equipped its posties with P2 masks, and made wearing them mandatory where air quality was rated very poor or hazardous. But it stopped short of suspending deliveries.
The city’s air quality was rated between hazardous and very poor overnight – after taking the title earlier in the week as having the worst air quality in the world.
University of Technology Sydney Associate Professor Brian Oliver found Melbourne CBD’s smoke particle pollution, called PM2.5, was equivalent to lighting up 20 cigarettes when it peaked at 412 yesterday morning.
It was comparable to 50 cigarettes in Box Hill, where it topped 1000.
Fire-affected areas across the state continue to suffer the poorest air quality, with Wangaratta, Albury and Bright in the northeast all rated as “hazardous”.
In East Gippsland, Orbost is also rated “hazardous”, while Bairnsdale and Sarsfield are reported to have “very poor” air quality.
Heavy smoke was even forcing firefighters to be rotated away from the front lines.
The haze also hampered efforts to fly medical supplies from Sale to isolated and fire-ravaged Mallacoota.
— Rosemary Walton (@rosewal) January 14, 2020
WHEN THE HAZE WILL EASE
Rain forecast this afternoon is expected to wash away some of the smoke and bring some relief, but the city may not see improved conditions until tomorrow morning.
Environmental Protection Authority’s state agency commander Stephen Lansdell said favourable weather conditions would help improve the air quality later today, with wind changes and wet weather due to reach Melbourne’s western suburbs about 2pm.
But he said the smoke was expected to return by Saturday and linger for the weekend.
“On Saturday we’re expecting a bit of a wind change that’s likely to bring that smoke back from the northeast and East Gippsland, so the north-easterly winds will bring that back,” he said.
He said people should brace for smoke haze to be a problem for multiple weeks.
“I think it’s a good reminder, hopefully these very hazardous conditions over the last couple of days will ease but the fires are going to be lasting for months to come, so we would expect to see impacts in our air quality for a long time yet.”
The weather bureau has forecast a hazy day in Melbourne with a top of 36C.
It said there was a high chance of showers and thunderstorms in the city in the afternoon and evening, with possible heavy rainfall.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said vulnerable groups included children under 14, adults over 65 and anyone with pre-existing medical conditions.
“Those individuals need to make sure they have a plan to place to look after their health and they might even need to check in with their GP,” he said.
“When you get to the hazardous range, anyone can develop symptoms.”
Australian Medical Association federal president Dr Tony Bartone reiterated that vulnerable people such as the elderly, children and pregnant women should avoid the outdoors as much as possible today.
He told 3AW current evidence on the long-term health effects of bushfire smoke was “thin”.
Individual sensitivity was a factor in how people reacted to the smoke while exercising, but overall “it’s a no-no in my book”, Dr Bartone said.
EVENTS CANCELLED, ATHLETES AFFECTED
Horse racing at Caulfield and Yarraville Valley has been cancelled amid thick smoke.
Racing Victoria said in a Twitter post that the events were “abandoned due to smoke haze and poor air quality, which is unlikely to improve throughout the day making it unsuitable for racing”.
Officials have postponed the start of play by three hours until 1pm, in the hope air quality improves. Practice has been suspended until 11am.
Melbourne’s City Baths were yesterday closed to the public, but gyms stayed open.
City of Melbourne confirmed the City Baths and Carlton Baths were shut, with a spokeswoman saying they would reopen “when the air quality rating improves”.
Childcare centres across Melbourne also kept children indoors to shelter them from the smoke, with parents alerted to the move.
Originally published as Flash flooding fears as smoke haze grounds planes