Updated Mar 2, 2022 - World

Thousands evacuate deadly floods in Australia as heavy rains lash Sydney

Properties in the suburb of Goodna in the far southwestern outskirts of Brisbane, Australia, are seen inundated by floodwaters on March 1.

Properties in the suburb of Goodna on the outskirts of Brisbane, Australia, are inundated by floodwaters on Tuesday. Photo: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Tens of thousands of people in southeastern Australia were under evacuation orders Tuesday, as days of heavy flooding that have killed at least 12 people showed no signs of abating.

The big picture: Torrential rains that began last week triggered flooding that caused several towns in Queensland and New South Wales to be submerged. The storm system on Wednesday unleashed heavy rains on Sydney, where forecasters warned flooding was expected.

By the numbers: Officials in northeastern New South Wales said they've conducted more than 1,000 flood rescues — including up to 50 people and their animals who were stranded by floodwaters on a bridge in the town of Woodburn overnight, per the BBC.

What they're saying: New South Wales Deputy Premier Paul Toole confirmed at a news conference Wednesday that a third person had been killed by floodwaters in the town of Lismore.

  • "Today, the focus is on Sydney. We are expecting heavy rainfall over the afternoon into the night and into tomorrow," Toole said.
  • "If you are getting a knock on the door, if you are asked to leave, please leave," he continued.
"We are looking at substantial rainfall over the coming days. We don't want to see those images where people were standing on the roofs of their houses, not leaving and then having to be rescued."
— NSW Deputy Premier Paul Toole

Context: Scientific studies show human-caused climate change has increased the likelihood and intensity of heavy rainfall, which can lead to flooding. Heavy rains are more likely in eastern and northeastern Australia during La Niña years, which feature milder ocean temperatures in parts of the western tropical Pacific Ocean.

  • However, the ongoing rains exceed what one would expect from La Niña-related trends alone. One of the firmest conclusions of climate change research is that hydrological extremes, both heavy rains and drought, are worsening around the world, including in Australia.
  • In recent years, Australia has see-sawed between drought, heat waves, wildfires and flooding.
  • A U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report out Monday warned "the current 1-in-100 year flood in Australia could occur several times a year" due to climate change.
  • Globally, the IPCC report states, "Flood risks and societal damages are projected to increase with every increment of global warming."
  • The IPCC warns of a potential doubling of flood risk and a 1.2 to 1.8-fold increase in GDP loss due to flooding if warming reaches between 1.5°C and 3°C above preindustrial levels, which it is currently on course to do.

Flashback: Thousands ordered to evacuate as "one-in-100-year" floods hit Australia

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

Go deeper