The bureau has issued a flood watch for the Northern Rivers and Mid North Coast catchments – on top of the severe weather warning for heavy rainfall – saying rain on Tuesday would cause further rises later in the day and on Wednesday.
“High water levels due to spring tides are also forecast over the next few days, which adds to the risk of flooding in lower tidal areas,” it said.
Moderate to major flood warnings have been issued for the Bellinger and Kalang Rivers. Moderate flood warnings have been issued for the Orara and Nambucca Rivers.
In the Northern Rivers region minor to moderate flood warnings remain current for the Tweed and Richmond Rivers. There is also a moderate flood earning current for the Wilsons River at Lismore.
Mr Robinson said the bureau expects the Wilson River to peak at 8.2m on Tuesday night, which is higher than what was experienced in February this year but lower than what was seen when Tropical Cyclone Debbie struck in 2017.
Agata Imielska, a manager at Bureau of Meteorology NSW, said Bellingen had recorded 251mm in the 24 hours to 9am on Tuesday and up to 100mm in the space of an hour.
“That has led to some rapid river rises and flash flooding – a continuation of some very dangerous conditions,” she said. “Some rivers have peaked, others have yet to peak such as Lismore.”
She said the weather system, which is weakening and moving south, may produce “heavier falls” overnight over the coastal fringes and rain in Sydney and the south coast.
“In terms of the damaging surf, coastal inundation and erosion that we’ve also seen, this is also on an easing trend,” she said.
“Hazardous surf conditions will remain a concern for anybody on the waters, so again be mindful of conditions on the water.”
Ms Imielska said there may be thunderstorms later in the week.
“We’re not expecting anything like the rainfall total that we’ve seen up north but there are a wet few days ahead,” she said.
“Beyond this system, we are expecting some thunderstorm activity in the second half of the week so we will see some more.”
Dangerous driving conditions
Flooding has caused road closures along the NSW north coast. As of 5pm on Tuesday, Tweed Valley Way between Riverside Dr and Cudgen Rd near Tumbulgum, Summerland Way between Ellangowan Road and Clarence Way near Casino, and Waterfall Way between Maynards Plains Road and Short Cut Road near Raleigh had been closed in both directions.
Heavy showers made treacherous conditions in some areas. Truck driver George Botfield was forced to stop ahead of a suddenly overflowing waterfall between Dorrigo and Bellingen about 9am, and ended up being stuck for three hours.
“It got really bad in a minute, would have been less probably,” he said. “Just the mass volume of water coming down was pretty crazy.”
Mr Botfield said it was not unusual for the aptly named Waterfall Way to get cut off by overflows during heavy rain, but said he had never seen it like this.
“I don’t get paid enough to go through that,” he said.
King tide event ‘easing’
A king tide event coinciding with the record rainfall has decimated the coastline, particularly around Byron Bay. While the tides are still unusually high, Ms Reid said it peaked on Monday.
“The tides are still there but they’re dropping off,” she said. The same goes for hazardous surf and strong winds.
Beach restaurant owner Ben Kirkwood, whose restaurant had to be sandbagged to protect it from the erosion, said the scene at Main Beach was “like being in the face of a cyclone”.
with Sarah Keoghan
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Esther Han is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald. She has covered state politics, health and consumer affairs.
Jenny Noyes is a journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald.