Tennis Ball-Sized Hail Hits Australia’s Sydney in ‘White Christmas’ Catastrophe

Mimi Nguyen Ly
By Mimi Nguyen Ly
December 21, 2018Australia

A rapidly moving storm that pelted hailstones and dumped heavy rain on Sydney on Dec. 20 has been declared the most expensive catastrophe for insurance companies in Australia this year.

In an unexpected “White Christmas,” Sydneysiders found many parts of the city looking as though it had been blanketed by snow.

The hail came and went over a period of around four hours, interspersed by torrential rain. Photos and videos shared on social media showed hailstones of various sizes, with some as big as tennis balls. Some were spherical, others were more flat, while several took the shape of jellyfish or cauliflowers.

Berowra, a suburb in Sydney’s upper North Shore, was one of the worst hit areas, with “almost every second home” needing help, a State Emergency Service (SES) spokesperson told the Australian Broadcasting Network.

There were reports from Berowra of hail reaching 8 centimetres (3.1 inches) in diameter, while in the south-east and south-west of Sydney, the hailstones were around half the size.

Surfers at Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach sought refuge from the sudden storm under their surfboards. Some managed to dash to the shore.

Sydney trains suffered delays and some lines had to halt following lightning strikes that hit power lines and buildings. At Sydney Airport, dozens of flights were delayed or canceled on Dec. 21 as a flow-on effect from the prior day.

It was the fifth night in a week that Sydney had been hit with torrential rain and strong winds.

The Bureau of Meteorology had issued a severe weather warning ahead of the hailstorm.

Storm Declared a Catastrophe, Many Windscreens Smashed

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) declared the storm a catastrophe as it noted that 25,000 insurance claims have already been made, racking up losses of more than A$125 million ($88.9 million) so far, according to local media.

Three-quarters of the claims thus far are attributed to dented panels as well as damaged cars, including many that have had their windscreens smashed.

As of 2 p.m. on Dec. 21, the largest of insurance claims have been lodged in Sydney’s north, in suburbs including Hornsby, Waverley, and Gosford, as well as Liverpool in the south, and the rural towns of Tamworth and Lithgow, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Homes and businesses have had their roofs, awnings, and solar panels damaged. Some properties sustained interior damaged due to overflowing gutters.

The status of “catastrophe” is designated when the ultimate damage bill is likely to rise to tens of millions of dollars or higher.

“The declaration means insurers are prioritising claims from the hailstorm and they’re endeavouring to help customers as quickly as possible,” ICA spokesman Campbell Fuller told the ABC.

It also means that a task force dedicated to the event has been set up to with emergency services and government bodies, the ABC reported.

Hailstorms are often the most damaging natural disasters that hit Australia each year, Fuller told the ABC.

SES Assistant Commissioner Scott Hanckel said a massive cleanup is underway that will involve more than 500 volunteers who are being supported by other emergency services.

“We had over 3000 calls at the height of it last night and I want to thank everyone’s patience for getting through that critical time,” Hanckel told Channel 9.

“We’ve got about 1,400 jobs to cleanup across the state today,” he said. “It was some of the worst I’ve seen in my 20 years … It’s been a very intense period of time for our volunteers.”

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