Tropical Cyclone Celeste

26 - 29 January 1996


Tropical cyclone Celeste was a rapidly developing cyclone and this was partly due to its unique position between equatorial and subtropical upper wind outflow channels. It was extremely small in size with a radius to gales of around 50 km when it was at peak intensity.

Over the period 1100 UTC 24 January 1996 to 1100 UTC 26 January 1996 the small tropical low which would become Celeste moved towards the northeastern Australian coast. This placed the developing low under an upper anticyclone separating easterly and westerly upper jets which provided ideal dual upper outflow channels. At 0500 UTC 26 January 1996 little deep convection was evident in the vicinity of the low. However, from satellite imagery, six hours later small convective elements near the centre of the MSL low progressively grew in size and rapidly developed into a circular cloud-band. By 1700 UTC 26 January 1996 a very deep convective core developed near the centre and observations from nearby automatic weather stations (AWS) indicated the cyclone had reached tropical cyclone intensity.

While intensifying it began to recurve and move in a southeasterly direction and was clearly visible on radar using the combined data from Townsville and Mackay. Due to the orientation of the coast this movement took Celeste very close to the town of Bowen before it moved seawards.

It came closest to Bowen at 0300 UTC 27 January 1996 when the centre was 24 km to the north with the radar eye wall over the northern part of the town. The official meteorological observations at Bowen are taken at the airport which is located on the southwestern fringe of the town and therefore further away from the cyclone centre. At 0300 UTC the maximum winds at the airport were reported; the 10-minute mean wind speed being 26 m/s while the strongest gust was 33 m/s. Queensland Emergency Services reported 18 houses damaged in Bowen of which only three sustained major damage. As Celeste moved seawards, it passed to the north of the Whitsunday Islands while reaching peak intensity. Subsequently it quickly weakened as the upper anticyclone moved west and upper west to southwest winds impinged on the polewards flank of the cyclone.

Track and intensity

Best Track of Tropical Cyclone Celeste