The afternoon of 2 February 1918 was humid and unsettled in Melbourne, with a slow-moving low pressure trough crossing Victoria. As the trough approached, heavy thunderclouds built up. About 4.50 pm, the so-called "Brighton cyclone" struck: apparently two separate tornadoes, followed about five minutes later by a third, hit the bayside suburb causing great destruction. Many buildings were totally destroyed, and even well constructed houses severely damaged. At one location two tornado tracks crossed, creating (according to the Argus) a "veritable orgy of destruction". In the few minutes that the storm lasted, two people were killed and many others injured. Wind speeds were estimated at 320 km/h (Fujita rating F3), making this possibly the most intense tornado to hit a major Australian city. After hitting Brighton, the tornadoes apparently continued east across "open country" (now densely settled). Were such a storm to occur today, the death and injury toll would likely be much higher.
Tornadoes are not uncommon in southwestern Australia. They are reported most frequently from the coastal strip south from Perth to Cape Leeuwin, and from the adjacent inland, especially in the cooler months. Early on 6 April 1960, a particularly violent tornado formed on a trough line ahead of a major cold front and swept through jarrah forest near Collie, cutting a path 32km long and 240 metres wide. Trees more than a metre in diameter were uprooted, and many smaller ones were snapped off about one and a half to three metres above the ground. Rated at F2 on the Fujita scale, the storm would have inflicted great damage had it passed through a major town. Many lesser tornadoes have in fact affected population centres in the region, and while casualties have been few, many homes have been severely damaged or destroyed. A similar tornado in northwest Tasmania left a swathe of snapped trees in forest country near Smithton early on 22 November 1992.
On the afternoon of 4 November 1973, intense thunderstorms built up west of Brisbane. One particularly active storm generated several funnel clouds, at least one of which touched down as a strong tornado west of the city. This tornado continued through Brisbane's western and southern suburbs, damaging nearly 1400 buildings: at one house, only the water pipes remained after the passage. No deaths occurred, but many people were injured. This tornado had a path length of 51km, with peak wind-speeds estimated at over 250km/h; however American meteorologists studying the event concluded that the wind-speeds could have topped 300km/h. This tornado remains the most damaging in Australia to date.
Southern Queensland was also the site of perhaps Australia's deadliest tornado, with three people killed at Kin Kin (a small community between Gympie and Noosa) on 14 August 1971. The most intense tornado recorded in Australia - with a Fujita rating of F4 - occurred at Bucca, west of Bundaberg (Queensland), on 29 November 1992. The intensity of the winds created freak effects, such as embedding a picture frame in the wall of a room. Hail the size of cricket balls accompanied the storm.
The Bucca (Qld) tornado, 29 November 1992. The only F4 tornado so far officially reported in Australia. (Photo courtesy of Emergency Management Australia).