When NT rainfall records shattered across the Top End, one local community lapped it up

| 13.01,20. 01:37 AM |

When NT rainfall records shattered across the Top End, one local community lapped it up

Photo: Locals reported minor flooding, with no critical damage, around the Wagait Beach community. (Supplied: Territory Image)

Torrential rain was greeted like an old friend in Northern Territory communities this weekend after a tropical weather system induced record-breaking deluges across the Top End.

Colossal downpours drenched the Northern Territory on Friday, with the small island of Dum In Mirrie south-west of Darwin receiving 562mm in 24 hours — an amount the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) confirmed is a new Northern Territory record.

The rains came as part of a tropical low system stalked the North Australian cost and threatened to hit Darwin as a tropical cyclone.

With little more than a weather station and tidal flats on the tiny island of Dum In Mirrie, the ABC has yet to hear local testimony of the day's unprecedented rains.

But in populated Top End towns from Wagait Beach (515mm), Pirlangimpi (164mm) and Charles Point (185mm), residents said the rains were like nothing they'd seen in years.

But how much did it really rain, historically speaking?

While the BOM has confirmed the reading at Dum In Mirrie broke the NT's daily rainfall record (previously 544mm in the Roper Valley in 1963), the 562mm on the island does not crack the top-10 biggest daily readings recorded in Australia.

The highest ever daily rainfall total in the country — 907mm at Crohamhurst, QLD in 1893 — was barely threatened by the tropical storms.

The 515mm at Wagait Beach is now the second highest ever daily rainfall recorded in the NT.

From the vantage point of the local native plant nursery, Wagait Beach local Jack Ellis watched on in disbelief as his plants soaked up more than half a wet season's worth of rain in a single day.

'An amazing waterfall wherever you looked'

Mr Ellis, who runs the local plant nursery, said the rain was "as heavy as he'd seen".

"The rain started just after 9:00am. I went out and checked the gauge and saw we'd had 30mm and I thought, 'wow, that's good', because it's been very dry up here until then," he said.

Mr Ellis said the rain bucketed down "basically non-stop" until the late afternoon on Sunday.

"And then, like all good public servants do, it stopped shortly before about 5:00pm," he said.

"If you could just imagine standing under a waterfall for almost a day — that's what it was like.

"It just kept coming and coming. Enormous, heavy rain, and it just bucketed down with virtually no wind.

"It was quite pleasant: just this amazing waterfall wherever you looked."

Mr Ellis said he recalled days where the community had received over 100mm in a day, including one deluge of 250ml when Cyclone Carlos swept across the Top End.

"Even on that day I thought we were going to head over to the shed and build an ark at that stage," he said.

At about 5:00pm, when the rain had slowed, Mr Ellis, an ex-newspaper man at the Litchfield Times, drove around Wagait Beach taking photographs of flooded roads and sodden bushland.

While he said he could see no critical damage to local infrastructure, Mr Ellis said a key concern was the inaccessibility of the local pub.

"The other major disaster was they had to cancel the 5:00pm, 6:00pm and 7:00pm ferries because the wave action against the jetty was such they couldn't safely tie up to ferry people off," he said.

Deluge replenishes a diminished water supply

Across the NT, the rain brought varying relief to towns facing acute water shortages, where some aquifers had failed or were at critical lows.

Wagait Beach resident Naomi Irvine said she was thrilled to see her melaleuca trees under water and her water tank filled to the brim after a prolonged dry spell in 2019.

"I absolutely loved it because last year we didn't get any rain; lately it's been so hot and dry so to get that kind of water is just fantastic," she said.

"Most of the residents up here have water tanks so we get pretty excited about this kind of rain … it means we can fill up."

Mr Ellis said the rain had fully replenished his two 22,000 litre tanks which were empty before Friday.

"That usually takes me about three to four weeks of really good rain," he said.

Due to a lack of rainfall in 2019, Mr Ellis said local residents had been drawing water from large holding tanks piped in from external bores, or paying considerable money to have their tanks filled.

"Now, I don't think there'd be an empty tank in Wagait Beach at this time," he said.


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