A TORNADO, hailstones the size of golf balls, once-a-year rainfall and wind gusts of more than 100 km/h were among Mother Nature's Christmas gifts to Melbourne.
The weather bureau reported four or five individual thunderstorm cells that began moving across metropolitan Melbourne late yesterday afternoon.SES calls for reinforcements as the mop-up goes on
Meteorologists were taken aback as the storms hit, including a tornado at Fiskville, near Bacchus Marsh. Spokeswoman Claire Yeo said such an event would likely only happen a few times each year.
Wind gusts of up to 109 km/h at Melbourne Airport meant flight delays for travellers because of severe lightning.
An airport spokeswoman said some flights had been diverted to Sydney as it was difficult to predict when planes could fly safely through lightning and strong winds. A Qantas spokeswoman said the longest delay was 40 minutes.
SES spokesman Lachlan Quick said hailstones had ripped through skylights, windows and roof tiles in Taylors Lakes, Sunshine and Keilor.
The SES responded to more than 2500 calls for assistance, most of which were for building damage from hailstorms. More than 20 people were rescued after being trapped in their cars and homes by flash flooding.
3AW was off air from early evening - but still on the net, digital radio and mobile applications - after its transmitter was struck by lightning.
In Briar Hill, near Greensborough, one resident tweeted evidence of a white Christmas as hailstones covered the lawn.
The weather bureau radar went from red to brown to black - the most severe rain warning.
Laverton received 30 millimetres of rain in less than an hour, while Doncaster received 37 millimetres, an event the bureau said occurred only once every few years. Heavy rain is usually considered 10 millimetres of rain an hour or more.
A minor flood warning for the Yarra River, and moderate warning for Merri Creek were issued..
Yarraville resident Trevor Hicks said the house opposite his on Stanger Street was burnt to the ground after being hit by lightning. No one was home. ''It looked like the lightning hit the roof and then it just exploded in flames,'' he said.