Red Ice Membership

Wild weather rips through Sydney
2004 07 18

White out ... snow and icy weather has hit south eastern Australia / File
EXTREME weather overnight has ripped off roofs and uprooted trees in Sydney, while ice and snow has forced road closures across New South Wales and seen stranded drivers dug out in Victoria.

Snow has blanketed much of the south-eastern part of NSW, with heavy falls in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, and the Southern Highlands.

Police urged motorists to be extremely careful as they returned from the state's snowfields today, warning that slippery roads were a major hazard.

While roads were being salted and sanded to minimise the impact of the ice, the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) recommended people postponed car travel until conditions improved.

The worst-affected areas for snow and ice were west of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, where snow was still falling this morning, and south of Mittagong on the Hume Highway.

Ice was forcing the periodic closure of the Great Western Highway between Medlow Bath and Blackheath, while Bells Line of Road was closed.

The Snowy Mountains Highway was closed at Cooma, and the Monaro Highway was closed between Queanbeyan and Cooma.

"Of concern (is) a large number of people seem to be heading from Sydney up towards the Blue Mountains, presumably to look at the snow," RTA spokesman Ken Boys said.

"We are appealing to people to stay out of the area if they can."

Fallen trees and branches forced the closure of Botany Bay National Park South in south-east Sydney, while debris and fallen wires blocked other roads across the city.

Electricity wires were down in Kensington, Lilyfield and Seaforth this morning.

Debris, trees and branches obstructed roads in Oxford Falls and Chatswood and power failures across the Illawarra region caused traffic light blackouts this morning.

"I can't imagine that many people will be going for a picnic," a spokeswoman for the National Parks and Wildlife Service said.

Despite the havoc caused overnight and this morning temperatures were only two degrees celsius below average, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

A maximum of 15 degrees was expected in Sydney today and a minimum of 5.9 degrees.

The Bureau of Meteorology expected snowfall to ease in the Blue Mountains later today.

"The jobs are still rolling in," State Emergency Service (SES) central Sydney local controller Peter Murray said.

In north-east Victoria, the Great Alpine Highway was reopened today after gale-force winds and heavy snowfall forced its closure.

Dozens of drivers were left stranded after winds of up to 70kph lashed the highway, affecting visibility.

"The wind was blowing snow onto the road from south-east and visibility was almost zero," said Keith Boxer from Mt Hotham Resort Management board.

"You always get people stuck in those sort of conditions. We dug out a few people from the road.

"You get a bank-up of cars which exacerbates the problem."

About 15cm of snow fell throughout Victoria's alpine region yesterday, but Mr Boxer said the wind was the problem.

He said many of the ski lifts were on hold yesterday because of the conditions, but most lifts and roads had been re-opened today in calmer weather.

"The Great Alpine highway was reopened this morning at 7am (AEST) and conditions are much safer," he said.

Because many of the roads remained icy due to a heavy frost overnight, Mr Boxer said drivers should be extremely careful.

Most resorts have reported excellent skiing and snowboarding conditions after fresh snowfall overnight, with the highlights being Mt Hotham with an average snow depth of 129cm and Falls Creek with around 115cm of snow.

"It's very nice up here and the sun has come out," said a Falls Creek ski resort spokeswoman.

"It's much better than yesterday and a lot of people are out and about."

She said the ski resort had more than 100 calls in half an hour.

Light snowfall and easing winds are predicted for the region in the next two days

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