Storm knocks out power to entire state of South Australia
Much of South Australia is still without power after the entire state was knocked off the grid by an extreme weather system that severed much of its power supply.
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A mass blackout began on Wednesday afternoon, after a storm took down three transmission lines and nine towers in the Port Augusta region, forcing the electricity connection between South Australia and Victoria - known as an "interconnector" - to be shut down.
Wind turbines, which make up an estimated 40 per cent of the state's power generation, were unable to operate as winds were too high, leaving much of the state in the dark.
Crews worked overnight to try to get the state back on the grid, but three of the four transmission lines moving power between Adelaide and the state's north, and 23 towers across the network, were damaged, network operators ElectraNet said early on Thursday.
By 12.10am local time (3.40am NZ time), transmission had been restored to the city's central business district and most of the Adelaide metropolitan area.
Power transmission would be progressively restored throughout the rest of the state "as it is safe to do so", and SA Power Networks would gradually restore the power supply to homes and businesses.
Work would begin on Thursday morning to assess the extent of the damage to the network. There was significant damage in the north and east of Port Pirie, north of Adelaide, and the Eyre Peninsula, in the state's west.
However, more gale force winds were forecast for Thursday, and could delay restoration efforts or cause further damage, ElectraNet warned.
The company urged residents to keep away from downed powerlines and other damaged infrastructure.
KIWI CAUGHT UP IN BLACKOUT
By 7.30pm on Wednesday, power started to return to some of the state.
Expat New Zealander Scott Wooffindin told Stuff his Adelaide home was without power for three hours, "which wasn't that bad".
However, he said, the outage caused mayhem on the city's roads on Tuesday night.
"It was chaos on the way home from work with no traffic signals working and police only working major intersections.
"It made for some interesting sights of drivers taking the law into their own hands [and] sheer luck, rather than road rules!"
Wooffindin said while there had been heavy rain, thunder and lightning, the weather at home in Canterbury was "far worse" than what Adelaide was seeing.
"People here just talk about it as if this is the end-of-the-world weather," he said.
Premier Jay Weatherill told a media conference it was the "usual protocol" to isolate South Australia from the National Electricity Market in a situation where there is a "large frequency drop".
He said the state's "backup baseload generation" was beginning to restore power, however this was a gradual process.
ElectraNet executives were reportedly in an emergency meeting on Wednesday afternoon to determine a solution.
National energy and resources minister Josh Frydenberg said high-voltage transmission towers were blown over in the state's north as lightning struck a power station, creating a "perfect storm".
"The combination of these events, and indeed other events, have led to a frequency surge, an electricity surge, across the interconnector," he said.
He proposed bringing together the nation's energy ministers as soon as possible in a Council of Australian Governments meeting to figure out what happened and to ensure it is not repeated.
Traffic lights were rendered inoperative, choking roads in the CBD. Building fire alarms blared across the city, according to local media reports, and residents rushed to supermarkets to stock up on candles and matches.
The State Emergency Service advised people to "stay at home if you can", saying electric trains and trams have come to a halt across Adelaide.
Adelaide Airport is running on back-up power after a brief blackout, but travellers were told to expect disruptions.
About 5.30pm, residents were told to conserve power to their mobile phone battery and prepare for extended outages.
The fire brigade has warned the public to switch off all heating, cooking and other appliances that were in use when the power went out.
Two severe storm fronts swept across SA on Wednesday, the first hitting Adelaide around lunchtime and the second about 3.30pm. The power went out across the state about 3.45pm, when there was heavy rain, lightning and thunder over the capital.
The town of Cleve, on the central Eyre Peninsula, was among the hardest hit. Other towns including Gawler, Kapunda, Clare and Balaklava were also hammered by the storm, which dumped large hail over the region.
Federal Labor energy spokesman Mark Butler said the immediate priority was ensuring the safety of South Australians and "there will be plenty of time to investigate what exactly has occurred and what needs to be done to boost the security of South Australia's energy supply".
"But that will come after we deal with the immediate outage and after we can be sure everyone is safe and sound," the South Australian senator said in a statement.
South Australian opposition leader Stephen Marshall said there were conflicting messages about the cause of the outage and how long it was going to take to fix.
130,000 LIGHTNING STRIKES IN A DAY:
Kim Westcott, a Meteorologist with Fairfax Media's Weatherzone, said South Australia was hit with 130,000 lightning strikes from midnight to 5pm.
The strikes, part of a cold front, mainly hit in the south-east of the state, within 300 km of Port Augusta.
"In behind this lightning-intensive system we have a really quite intense low-pressure system, so we are looking at damaging wind gusts," Westcott said.
The Bureau of Meteorology warned wind gusts up to 140kmh could be experienced, with isolated rainfall up to 100 millimetres.
On Wednesday evening, the highest gust had been recorded at Snowtown, which experienced 104 kmh winds at 3.30pm.
The most rain had fallen at Mount Lofty, in Adelaide's east, with falls of 34 millimetres from 9am to 6.30pm.
High winds and rain are expected to continue on Thursday, as another low pressure system moves over the state. However, conditions are expected to "rapidly improve" on Friday.
'IT'S CHAOS EVERYWHERE'
Ashley Porter is among those in Adelaide who rushed to supermarkets in search of candles and batteries.
"With a giant storm forecast to hit South Australia, SA ,minister for state development Tom Koutsantonis was asked this morning whether there would be power blackouts. 'No way,' he claimed.
"Right now the city is clogged in darkness; no power so no traffic lights and police are directing traffic in the rain.
"It's chaos everywhere; right across the state.
"Adelaide Railway Station closed; angry people stranded in the rain.
"Elton John may have had South Australians in mind when he wrote Candle in The Wind... [I] drove through gale force winds to Woolworths, the only store open because it has a generator, and found people running down the aisles trying to find candles. All gone. Grabbed the last citronella foil candle, which repels mossies with the smallest of flames and horrible smell - but no mossies at home because there is no light to attract them."
- Brisbane Times