Usually dry Todd River reappears in Alice Springs following torrential rain

A usually bone dry river bed in the desert of Central Australia has suddenly begun to flow again after torrential rain hit the outback.

The Todd River began to surge through Alice Springs this week after more than 50mm of rain fell on the Northern Territory city following the arrival of monsoon weather to the north of the continent. Just three days ago it was dry and dusty.

Residents have taken to social media to post pictures and videos of the rare phenomena.

Alice Springs can go years without any water passing through the Todd. Most of the time it is simply a barren expanse spanned by bridges and fords that separates the CBD from the small city’s suburbs.

Local legend has it, if you see the Todd flow three times, you’ll never leave the Alice.

One of those times happened this week when its murky brown water began churning down the bed. Some roads were inundated with cars driving through the flow.

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“There’s a desert soaking at the moment which is not something you see every year,” Sky News Weather senior meteorologist Tom Saunders said.

“Alice Springs has seen roughly 50mms of rain but to the north there’s been well over 100mm.

The last time any water was seen on the Todd was in February.

Up until early December, central Australia has been an engine of dry heat sending out dust and blistering weather particularly towards the south and east.

However, the emergence of the La Nina weather system and the monsoon has led to a dramatic change in conditions.

The moisture from the monsoonal low has threaded its way from the Top End and the far north of Western Australia to Alice Springs. It’s then continued towards the coast bring torrential rain to populated areas.

The river, known as Lhere Mparntwe is the local Indigenous language, begins its journey in the McDonnell Ranges to Alice Springs’ west.

On the way it picks up sediment from grazing lands giving the Todd an opaque hue as it flows through the city. It joins up with the Hale River with the water eventually ending up in Lake Eyre, itself often no more than dry bed.

The arid conditions around Alice Springs means the Todd is dry for around 95 per cent of the time. The Henley-on-Todd regatta, a cheeky homage to Britain’s fancy Henley-on-Thames regatta, is held yearly on the bed with people racing bottomless boast where the weather would otherwise be.

However, heavy rain in its catchments can see it fill up through Alice in just hours. It’s reported it can take just 15 minutes for the Todd to go from no water at all to small torrent.

Mr Saunders said it was very possible the Todd would continue to flow for some days to come.

“Heavy rain is continuing across the NT, all the way own to Alice Springs but that rain will ease by Christmas Day.”

Up to 15mm could fall on Christmas Eve with a few spots on the Christmas Day itself in Alice Springs. Following that it’s going to be dry, sunny and hot – reaching 34C next Monday – which means the Todd will likely disappear once more into the bush until it’s time to shine occurs once more. Which, in a La Nina year, might be sooner than many think.

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