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South Australian Floods, Marla area, March 1989.

Extreme rainfall period and a 'Highest rainfall in a single day' record for S.A.

In March 1989 I drove with a friend to 'The Red Centre' to photograph a time of 'greening' from previous recent rains. Thunderstorms were still active at this time and I was on the hunt for storms however it felt like I became the hunted and very nearly the hapless. It was the first time I had travelled there and I coincidently happened to drive into and camp in the path of an extreme rainfall event. The 'HIGHEST RAINFALL IN A SINGLE DAY' for SA was recorded at Motpena on the 14th March. Lake Eyre filled to a depth of three metres as a result of this and other rains in this period (1988-1990).
Gallery 1 - The Flood

30 images

Gallery 2 - Afterwards

30 images

Rainfall Maps

'Roll over' image (above). 'Before and After' - Agnes Creek (100 KM north of Marla) sees a full moon rising on the evening before and then at 10 AM the next day. Taken from the bridge on the Stuart Highway. I had to abandon this position unfortunately as the water level was continuing to rise more rapidly and it became time to evacuate.
I was under threat of being stranded and made a close call 100 kilometre treacherous sprint back to Marla. The Stuart Highway was about to become inundated over most of the distance. The pace was slow at times as it continued to rain heavily and aqua-planing off the road and into water was a danger. Just as we reached Marla the highway was about to be ripped up to divert water around the roadhouse. I made it with only minutes to spare before the road was closed for four days. We were stranded along with around 100 other travellers who sought refuge there.

Record Rainfall in a 24 hour period for South Australia - 14th March 1989.

'Widespread rainfall, which extended for a period of almost two weeks, began with record falls at many northern locations on the 14th. The extreme falls caused widespread flooding in the northern parts of the state. This resulted in many roads, including the Stuart Highway, being cut. The Indian-Pacific railway service was suspended for a short time and the Ghan to Alice Springs was also delayed. Extensive relief operations were implemented to evacuate stranded motorists and supply food to isolated communities'.

'The record fall on the 14th was 273mm in 24 hours at Motpena' (near Lake Torrens). This appears to remain a 24 hour record for SA.

'Approximately 2 km of old railway embankment washed away at the Stuart Creek bridge, Curdimurka (just SW of Lake Eyre).

Sources - South Australian Weather, www.saweather.com/ , Australian Severe Weather Assoc.

Floods of Lake Eyre' - Dr Vincent Kotwicki

  'The hydrology of the western tributaries is largely unknown. Several major rivers carry water  infrequently, possibly only once in ten years. Flood volumes can be, however, enormous: for example in 1984 and in 1989 Lake Eyre received some 8 km3 from western tributaries in three days, which implies discharges of the order of 30 000 m3 s-1, or one-sixth that of the Amazon.'   

   'The last decade brought two unexpected events. The filling of 1984 with a total volume of 10 km3 was a relatively minor one, but it proved that the western tributaries can fill Lake Eyre in a matter of days. Lake Eyre South this time filled first - an event never previously recorded and considered to be extremely unlikely - and overflowed to Lake Eyre North. In 1989 this event was repeated, coinciding with the filling of the second largest Australian playa, Lake Torrens, which filled for the first time since 1878. The wet spell continued into 1990 when after some of the most devastating floods in Australian history, water from the Cooper Creek reached Lake Eyre for the first time since 1974.'

Source - Floods of Lake Eyre web site, Dr Vincent Kotwicki, www.k126.com/eyre/index.html

Maps of Marla / Agnes Creek area.
Above map showing Lake Eyre Basin.

Lake Eyre itself is at the bottom left corner of the basin or catchment area and is seen as a small black patch.

Rainfall figures for Marla to 9am (March 1989) :

March 12th - 9.5 mm

March 13th - 86.8 mm

March 14th - 51.2 mm

March 15th - 1.2 mm

March 23rd - 20.0 mm

March 24th - 67.0 mm

March 25th - 59.0 mm

Total for month - 298 mm.

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Related Links :
Dr Vincent Kotwicki's Web Site
Lake Eyre Basin Co-ordinating Group