Jaws dropped in disbelief early last Friday morning when residents between Mount Victoria and Lawson awoke to a carpet of snow.
The mid-spring blizzard conditions — caused by a massive pool of cold air from Antarctica passing over the Great Dividing Range in combination with an intense low pressure system off the NSW coast — saw temperatures plummet to below freezing and snow fall to depths of up to 20cm in the Upper Mountains.
Even residents as far east as Hazelbrook and Woodford reported a light dusting of snowflakes.
The snow delighted young families who flocked to local parks to build snowmen and slide down slopes on everything from makeshift cardboard sleds to brand-name snowboards.
But it caused mayhem for workers, school students and local businesses when the Great Western Highway between Lawson and Mount Victoria was closed along with the Darling Causeway, Bells Line of Road between Bell and Mount Tomah and even the “back way” between Leura and Katoomba, and Lawson and Wentworth Falls.
Hundreds of motorists already on these major roads were left cold and stranded, but no major car accidents were reported.
Train services between Katoomba and Lithgow were also temporarily interrupted when a tree fell on the line near Medlow Bath.
Emergency services personnel helped stranded motorists, including Fire and Rescue NSW officers who transported drivers and passengers to fire stations at Shipley, Mount Wilson and Wentworth Falls.
Blue Mountains SES local controller John Hughes activated the Blue Mountains Snow Plan on Friday morning and by 4pm SES volunteers had responded to 60 calls for assistance in the Upper Mountains.
“Most calls were about roof damage and fallen branches and trees due to the weight of snow on them,” Mr Hughes said.
“As the jobs for storm assistance were not urgent, our main job in the morning was to traverse the (closed) highway between Katoomba and Mount Victoria to make sure stranded drivers and passengers were okay.
“At one stage, the SES had reported that up to 300 motorists were stranded on the Great Western Highway and a further 100 at Bell.
“The NSW SES received more than 120 calls for assistance over the following 24 hour period.”
Up to 2500 households were left without power overnight on Friday in Blackheath, Mount Victoria, Medlow Bath, Megalong and Leura due to fallen power lines and electrical faults.
“In particular, snow on access roads hampered our ability to patrol the network and make repairs to safely restore power supply (on Friday),” Endeavour Energy’s general manager of network operations, Drew Ferguson, said.
For Shipley Plateau berry and vegetable farmer Richard Kalina, the heavy snowfall was “beautiful but also costly”.
The Berridale Farm operator said a snow depth on his property of 20cm proved too much strain for hail protection nets covering four acres of farmland.
“The nets were completely destroyed by the snow and you can’t get any insurance coverage for that,” Mr Kalina said.
“You can’t plan for things like a one-in-50-year spring snowfall — it is the last thing you expect and as much fun as it was to look at and play in, it sure caused a lot of damage.
“On the positive side the snow, unlike frosts, acted like a doona cover so 98 per cent of my crop is okay.
“The nearby apple orchard in Shipley (Logan Brae) lost a bit of bird netting but fortunately the owner told me 99 per cent of his stock is fine too.”
Dozens of readers shared their photos of the snow on the Gazette’s Facebook page.
A snowy photo gallery is available for viewing on the Gazette’s website at www.bluemountainsgazette.com.au.
With temperatures closer to normal this week, it is a timely reminder that the long bushfire and storm danger period is only beginning.