South Australia, September 2016

Extreme weather and statewide power failure, South Australia, 2016

Towards the end of 2016, an intense low-pressure system affected South Australia. On 28 September, a cold front crossed the state, bringing thunderstorms, destructive winds, large hailstones and heavy rain. Into the afternoon, tornadoes developed in conjunction with the storms, mainly in the Mid-North. 

The weather had been forecast well in advance – South Australia's emergency arrangements were in place, and the Emergency Management Council briefed. Public warnings were disseminated, and briefing for the Council continued as the event progressed.

The tornadoes caused damage to 23 transmission towers. At 3.48pm, the state experienced a 'black system event' – a state-wide power outage. At 5.30pm, the event was declared a 'Major Incident' by the State Coordinator. Subsequently, the Department of Communities and Social Inclusion Chief Executive was appointed to the role of Assistant State Coordinator Recovery.

The multi-agency response engaged the State Emergency Service (SES); Country Fire Service (CFS); Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS); South Australia Ambulance Service; and South Australia Police, as well as the Australian Defence Force and other agencies from interstate. One example of multi-agency activity was the provision of strike teams (four response vehicles with a command vehicle) from CFS and MFS to the SES.

In addition to regular responsibilities, the range of activities carried out by emergency service organisations (ESOs) included:

  • responding to storm damage/removing fallen trees
  • flood mitigation, including sandbagging and pumping water away from or out of assets
  • door-knocking to advise residents of potential issues
  • traffic control
  • providing personnel for incident management.

Businesses and communities felt the impact, both of the blackout and the weather itself. Adelaide regained access to power in a few hours. However, it took several days to restore power to some parts of the state. Damage from the storm and the impact of flooding spanned a significant area geographically: from Port Pirie and Whyalla through to the Mid-North; the Barossa, Clare Valley and Mount Lofty Ranges; across to Naracoorte in the south-east; as well as metropolitan Adelaide. 

Victoria and New South Wales deployed resources to South Australia to assist the SES in managing the after-events of the extreme weather.

Further details of the storm, its impact and the timeline of events are contained within the independent review, commissioned by the South Australian premier on 4 October 2016.



This incident was included in the Major Incidents Report 2016-17 (Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience, 2017). The report acknowledges the following sources:

Bureau of Meteorology 2016, Monthly Weather Review: Australia, September 2016.
Burns G, Adams L & Buckley G 2017, Independent review of the extreme weather event, South Australia, 28 September – 5 November 2016. At: