Tropical Cyclones in Queensland

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Introduction

Tropical cyclones pose a serious threat to Queensland communities and industry. Australia's deadliest tropical cyclone occurred on 4 March 1899 when a cyclone hit a pearling fleet in Bathurst Bay (north of Cooktown) and caused a massive storm surge accounting for 307 known fatalities. Often the most significant impact from tropical cyclones or indeed tropical lows is flooding. Arguably Australia's greatest flood event in the last 50 years occurred in January 1974 when tropical cyclone Wanda caused heavy rains across southeast Queensland including Brisbane. Tropical cyclones or lows making landfall in the Gulf of Carpentaria and moving overland can also cause widespread heavy rain over much of the state.

Although the considerable majority of cyclone impacts are located in north Queensland, occasionally a cyclone affects areas further south down the east coast. Even cyclones that are located off the north or central Queensland coast can affect areas well to the south. Heavy rain can occur well to the south of the cyclone and the strong easterly winds between the cyclone and a high to the south may cause large waves over the east coast. On 26 March 1998 Tropical Cyclone Yali produced beach erosion from the Sunshine Coast to northern NSW.

See also: Map of the Australia cyclone regions

 

Cyclone Season

Tropical cyclones in the Queensland region mostly form from lows within the monsoon trough, between November and April.

Climatology

Cyclone frequency

On average 4.7 tropical cyclones per year affect the Queensland Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre Area of Responsibility. There is a strong relationship with eastern Australian tropical cyclone impacts and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation phenomenon, with almost twice as many impacts during La Niña than during El Niño. The likelihood of this occurring by pure chance is remote (significant at 99% level).

There have been 207 known impacts from tropical cyclones along the east coast since 1858. Major east coast tropical cyclones impacts include 1890 Cardwell; 1893 Brisbane; 1898 NSW; 1899 Bathurst Bay; 1918 Innisfail; 1918 Mackay; 1927 Cairns and inland areas; 1934 Port Douglas; 1949 Rockhampton; 1954 Gold Coast; 1967 Dinah, Southern Queensland; 1970 Ada, Whitsunday Islands; 1971 Althea, Townsville; 1974 Wanda, Brisbane; and 2006 Larry, Innisfail.

The Queensland region of the Gulf of Carpentaria region has been hit by several disastrous tropical cyclones. These include The 1887 Burketown cyclone, The 1923 Douglas Mawson cyclone, The 1936 Mornington Island cyclone; the 1948 Bentick Island cyclone and Ted in 1976.

Hybrid cyclones
Sometimes other tropical disturbances (often called hybrid cyclones) that have a different structure to a classical tropical cyclone can bring destructive winds to the Queensland coast. The different flow pattern is highlighted in the diagrams below, where the location of the zone of destructive winds of a hybrid cyclone is compared to that of a severe tropical cyclone. North is at the top of the page in these figures, and the area of destructive winds is seen to wrap right around the tropical cyclone. The white arrow indicates direction of motion of the cyclone. The worst devastation occurs within 100 km of the cyclone's centre with the strongest winds on the left facing the direction of motion.

In contrast, the destructive winds associated with a hybrid cyclone lie in a band extending well from the centre. The overall length of the band may exceed 200 km. The wind strength in the band can reach 120 km/h, even though the central pressure may be in the 990 to 995 hPa range.

One of these hybrid cyclones caused extensive damage in the Bundaberg / Maryborough region in February 1976.

Diagram comparing cyclone with hybrid cyclone

Cyclone history

Impact descriptions of selected tropical cyclones between 1858 - 2007

Selected reports - Eastern region

Tropical Cyclone Monica 17 - 27 April 2006
Tropical Cyclone Larry 17 - 21 March 2006
Tropical Cyclone Ingrid  6 - 17 March 2005
Tropical Cyclone Steve 27 Feb - 11 Mar 2000

Cyclone tracks and details

Image below: Tropical cyclone tracks for cyclones that formed or moved through the Eastern region from 1970 - 2004. (See also: Tropical cyclones since 1906: Search for cyclones by season and location.)

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© Australian Government, Bureau of Meteorology