A VIOLENT hailstorm that lasted only 20 minutes left a path of destruction across Tamworth and outlying areas when it hit just after 3pm yesterday.
Emergency services were kept busy for hours after being inundated with calls from residents seeking help, with the Tamworth SES reporting more than 100 calls for assistance.
The worst reports came from South Tamworth, where the storm caused a huge amount of damage in only a small amount of time and dumped 25mm of rain within an hour.
Hailstones, in some places bigger than golf balls, damaged cars and smashed windows.
A maximum wind gust recorded at Tamworth’s automatic weather station at the Tamworth Airport registered at 98km/h.
Small planes parked at Tamworth Airport had their wings twisted by the force of the wind.
At the national equine centre, the wind peeled back the iron roof of the main arena entrance like a tin can. The downpour caused flash-flooding over a number of main roads, including Goonoo Goonoo Rd, Kable Ave and Bridge St.
Firefighters were called to a number of businesses after the weather set off false alarms.
Residents in Mount Falcon Estate first reported the storm just after 3pm, but it appeared that as it moved around its ferocity and the hailstones grew in size. South Tamworth was the hardest hit.
Resident Beverly Jennings, who lives in Petra Ave, watched the storm roll over and said by the time it arrived at her place – about 3.10pm – the stones were “bigger than golf balls” and had “rough edges”.
Not only were the hailstones huge, there were reports of a mini-tornado, too.
Heavily pregnant Cathy Miller’s two-storey house in Wilga Place, off Kurrajong St in South Tamworth, was significantly damaged.
Hailstones the size of golf balls punched holes through three windows on the top floor. The accompanying winds blew the guttering off the front of the house and water came pouring into the home.
Mrs Miller was in one of the bedrooms on the top floor of the home talking to her husband when the storm hit.
“I watched the storm roll in and the clouds turn from green to black and started to panic a bit,” she said.
“I honestly thought there’s no way this is going to miss us.”
Fellow Wilga Place resident Geoff Myers had been watching the storm come across and thought it would blow over.
“It didn’t hit the way it normally would,” he said.
“I thought it would blow over, but it turned full circle and hit our street at a 45-degree angle.”
Mr Myers’ had a large hailstone break one window and the wind rip of some of his guttering.
He said the hailstones were as big as he’d seen in 30 years living in Tamworth.
Other storm-spotters said the stones were anywhere between the size of a five-cent piece and cricket balls, and reported their gardens being stripped by the force of the wind and beaten by the hail.
Road signs were buckled and brick fences were knocked over in the South Tamworth area.
At The Leader’s office on the corner of Brisbane and Marius streets, the kitchen and a number of offices on the first floor were flooded.
It’s understood parts of Centrepoint Shopping Centre and its underground car park were inundated with water.
Firefighters were brought in to try and push the water out, and customers were evacuated from the complex about 3.30pm.
Essential Energy confirmed at 4pm more than 3000 houses and businesses were experiencing power outages.
Staff at their offices in Electra St were being evacuated after damage was reported there.
An elderly woman living in Wahroongha Dr was terrified after a trampoline was picked up in the wind and thrown onto her roof.
A tree that blocked Calala Lane about 3.15pm and stopped traffic in both directions was one of a number of trees reported down, while a large tree fell over Arinya St, causing problems for cars and school buses ferrying children home.
Lightning was reported to have hit a number of light poles in and around the city.
Lines were reported to be down on Somerton Rd, and at the intersection of Roderick and Peel streets.
Emergency crews called to the lines at Roderick St were told to assert extreme caution when they attended, because there was concern the lines were still live when they fell on the ground.
Traffic lights were out across four intersections on Bridge St for some time; traffic controls were called in.
Although thunderstorms were forecast, a severe warning was not issued until 3.45pm, after the first wave of the storm had hit.
While the clean-up was under way in parts of Tamworth, residents in Kootingal reported the arrival of hail about 5.40pm.