Eight people were rescued from blizzards and extreme winds on the summit of Tasmania’s kunanyi/Mt Wellington on Saturday night, as winds, rain, and below-average temperatures moved across Australia’s eastern states over the weekend.
Six people became trapped in intensifying winds and snow on Mt Wellington’s summit, which overlooks Tasmania’s capital city, Hobart, just after midday on Saturday. The group took shelter in the summit’s toilet block.
Later in the evening, another two walkers called for help after becoming disoriented on the mountain and sheltering behind rocks. They were taken to the hospital with hypothermia.
Senior constable, Callum Herbert from Tasmanian police search and rescue, told ABC on Sunday that rescuers had to trek through the extreme weather to reach both hiking groups, putting more people at risk.
“All people involved started today with the best intentions, but ultimately, some were not prepared for the extreme and variable conditions of the mountain,” he said.
“The pair lost at night on the mountain did not find shelter and would almost certainly have perished if it wasn’t for the tenacity of the rescuers. They were very lucky.”
Herbert warned against downplaying the seriousness of current weather conditions.
“I have seen several media outlets posting beautiful photographs and videos from throughout the state of the snow and weather, but don’t be fooled. The current forecast conditions, particularly in exposed areas, can be deadly,” he said.
Meanwhile, a 54-year-old woman was killed and a man seriously injured after being struck by a falling tree in the Tasmanian town of Beulah on Saturday evening.
Police and emergency services were called to the scene in the small town on the north-west coast at about 5 pm on Saturday after reports two people had been trapped under a fallen tree.
Tasmania police said both people were treated at the scene, but the woman did not survive her injuries. A report will be prepared for the coroner.
A 54-year-old man was taken to Launceston general hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
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Police warned the public to stay indoors and avoid traveling on the roads during the wild weather, with power down in the area.
Below-average temperatures have hit much of eastern Australia, with snow falling as low as 400 meters in some areas and frosts hitting parts of usually mild north Queensland ahead of the Queen’s Birthday holiday.
In Tasmania, the Bureau of Meteorology has reported showers in the western, southern, and central areas, possibly small hail.
Snow fell to 400 meters above sea level in the morning and is expected to rise to 900 meters by the end of the weekend. The strong and gusty southwesterly winds battering the state should ease on Sunday evening.
Snow will continue to fall to 900 meters in Tasmania through Monday morning, with widespread morning frost and fine days elsewhere in the state.
In Victoria, the cold weather is expected to persist as the high-pressure system moves eastward, passing through the state on Monday and becoming established over New South Wales on Tuesday.
Scattered showers will ease in Victoria on Sunday, with snow falling to 1,200 meters across Gippsland on Sunday evening. The gusty west-to-southwesterly winds will ease during the afternoon, leading to a cold and partly cloudy Monday holiday, with a few isolated morning showers on the coast and in the Yarra Ranges.
The cold front is set to head into NSW and the ACT later in the week, with mostly fine days but below-average daytime temperatures across the state, along with gusty and strong west and southwesterly winds in the ranges and the southeast.
Hazardous surf conditions will continue into Monday and Tuesday, with showers developing.
Below-average temperatures also hit Queensland, with frost in inland parts of southern and central parts of the state and temperatures in some areas dropping below zero. Low temperatures and the risk of morning frost will continue into the coming week.
The low temperatures might not have been great for crops, but they have been good for skiers and snowboarders, giving some resorts the best opening to a season in over 20 years.
At Australia’s largest ski resort, Perisher in NSW, nearly a meter of snow – half of what would be needed for a good season – prompted a limited early opening.
At Thredbo, snowfalls have totaled 125cm, with ski lifts operating since Saturday, and locals saying it’s the best opening weekend the resort has seen for two decades.
The story is similar farther south, with Mt Buller (average snow depth 78cm), Mt Hotham (91cm), and Falls Creek (92cm) resorts also up and running, and snow forecast for most days during the coming week.
For a record-breaking ski season, the snow depth would need to exceed 3.5 meters between mid-June and October, as it did in 1981, according to Snowy Hydro records that date back to the 1950s.
Australian Associated Press contributed to this report.