Severe Tropical Cyclone Althea was at the time considered to be one of the strongest cyclones to affect the Queensland coast, and remains arguably the most intense cyclone to ever affect Townsville. There were three deaths in Townsville and damage costs in the Townsville region reached $50 million (1971 dollars). Many houses were damaged or destroyed (including 200 Housing Commission homes) by the winds. On Magnetic Island 90 per cent of the houses were damaged or destroyed. Two tornadoes damaged trees and houses at Bowen.
There was a major flood in the Burdekin but coastal floods were short lived. A 2.9 m storm surge was recorded in Townsville Harbour, however the maximum storm surge of 3.66m was to the north at Toolakea. This storm surge occurred at low tide, however the surge and large waves caused extensive damage along the Strand and at Cape Pallarenda.
A low that formed near the Solomon Islands on about 19 December tracked to the southwest and was estimated to reach cyclone intensity on 21 December. Althea steadily intensified passing to the south of Flinders Reef on 23 December. At about 10am EST 24 December, Althea crossed the coast some 50 km north of Townsville. Wind gusts to 196 km/h (106 knots ) were recorded at Townsville at 0830 EST. Althea then weakened overland, but was steered off the coast between Maryborough and Double Island Point at close to midnight EST 27 December, and re-intensified to cyclone intensity prior to weakening over cooler waters in the Tasman Sea.
For more details see the comprehensive TC Althea Report (4.6 MB).