As our climate changes, we'll experience more extreme weather events. We're researching better city planning for heavy rains, floods, and extreme weather in the future.

Updated 12 February 2020 and 14 December 2020

Dog being rescued from rising floodwaters - Kelly Watts AAP

Torrential rain is falling over Queensland and New South Wales, with the promised La Niña season starting to kick in.

South-east Queensland and northern New South Wales are bracing for more extreme weather, with current severe weather warnings for many areas, and thousands of homes without power. After a period of dry weather with falling water levels in dams and streams, the Bureau of Meteorology are predicting that these high-level rain events will continue into 2021.

Although this deluge of rain is welcome after Australia’s hottest November on record, extreme rainfall events can cause major flooding, car accidents, property damage and loss of life. We also know we’ll see more severe storms and rain events as our climate changes. And in areas recently burnt by bushfires, rain can spell trouble for our rivers by washing ash and other fire debris into the waterways.

The recently released State of the Climate report by CSIRO and The Bureau of Meteorology found that rising sea levels  around Australia, combined with high tide events are increasing flood risks by increasing the risk of inundation and damage to coastal infrastructure and communities. Continuing research by the Bureau and CSIRO are predicting continued decreases in cool season rainfall will occur across many regions of southern and eastern Australia, likely leading to more time in drought, yet also with more intense, short duration heavy rainfall events.

Our research can’t prevent extreme events from happening, but it can help protect people from the effects. We’re working on better city planning for heavy rains and extreme events.

Our cities in full flood

“Planning cities to cope with extreme rainfall events is critically important to minimise property loss and reduce danger to lives,” said Dr Simon Toze, from our Liveable, Sustainable and Resilient Cities team. “It can also reduce any negative effects on the natural environment, especially waterways.”

Our research, based on water and future resilient cities, includes finding environmental-friendly solutions for long-term sustainability and water supply. Part of this is how our cities can be better designed, not to prevent floods, but to cope with flood events in a way that causes minimal damage or losses.

Our cities are predominantly covered in artificial surfaces such as roofs, roads and pavements. This stops natural rainfall from penetrating into the soil and groundwater recharge. These surfaces increase runoff, which can result in pollution of waterways with urban contaminants, and increased risk of flash flooding. Water Sensitive Urban Design approaches are designed to increase natural infiltration of rainfall, which can help reduce runoff and pollution of waterways, particularly from regular rainfall events.

a paved surface with rain falling

Urban landscapes tend to have lots of impenetrable surfaces which can cause flooding

Waterways in our cities

Using public open spaces and nature-based approaches to manage and restore our waterways is important in slowing water flows. This helps to reduce peak floods, and remove sediment and other contaminants out of the storm water.

Our research is exploring how to significantly reduce disposal of our excess water and wastewater by looking at storage mechanism, improving sanitation and decreasing contamination of waterways. But there are also things residents can do individually to help.

Rainwater tanks have the potential to reduce the impact of urban flooding, especially if tanks have available capacity to capture some of the rainfall. It is helpful to ensure the tank is empty prior to a large rainfall event. Our previous research has shown that many people neglect regular maintenance of rainwater tanks systems, so make sure you keep it clean.

Our research has also found that intense storms have the potential to fill rainwater tanks very quickly (e.g. 20 mm rainfall on 100 m2 roof can fill a 2,000 litre tank).

So, to ensure rainwater tanks operate as designed it is important to check before the storm that gutters and downpipes are clear of leaf litter and other debris.

Melbourne: Raingarden at the Federation Square carpark.

Melbourne: Raingarden at the Federation Square carpark.

Five things we can do to prepare for storms

  1. Ensure roads and parks are as clean as possible to reduce contaminants being washed into our waterways.
  2. Encourage the growth of native grasses and bushes on the edges of our creeks and streams. This helps slow down water flowing into the streams and clean the water.
  3. Naturalise our creeks and streams, including creating floodable pond areas, to slow down water flows.
  4. Design more ways to capture and store water for later use, for example storing underground in aquifers.
  5. Understand that some areas in our cities will always flood and redesign them to deal with those floods.
people crossing the road as it rains

As heavy rain hits, how do our cities deal with it?


  1. We need to think about the soil and how to manage it to store water. This is a simple but effective video that’s super easy for anyone to follow.

  2. Great post, artificial wet lands in cities are one of my favorite places to go for a walk. I am in Melbourne and live just near the Eastlink trail an excellent example of how good planning can have really positive environmental impacts as well making an area far more resilient to extreme wet weather. We had virtually no problems in our area during the rains. In a free plug for the ALA check out some of the critters we see when walking with the boys – sure beats Christmas shopping:

    sorry some of the images are a bit fuzzy the citizen science game we play (questagame) requires the use of a smart phone – not exactly the most powerful bit of photographic equipment.

  3. so why are some councils so slow on ripping the concrete out of our creeks?

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