Tropical Cyclone Debbie

25 - 29 March 2017


Severe tropical cyclone Debbie made landfall near Airlie Beach on Queensland's Whitsunday coast on Tuesday, 28th March 2017, after crossing the Whitsunday islands as a large and powerful category 4 strength system. The cyclone devastated resort islands in the Whitsunday group including Hamilton and Daydream Islands, as well as the towns of Airlie Beach and Proserpine. Bowen also received significant damage, and further inland, the cyclone caused damage at Collinsville which experienced category 2 strength winds. The remnant tropical low turned southeast and produced major flooding in central and southeast Queensland and northeast New South Wales during the following few days. Several lives were lost due to flooding in New South Wales and Queensland. Schools across southeast Queensland, including Brisbane, were closed on Thursday 30th March due to the risk of flash flooding and high winds. Many of those schools remained closed the following day.

The tropical low that became Debbie was first identified and tracked southeast of Papua New Guinea on 22nd March. It drifted south while developing during the next few days, and was named Debbie at 10am on 25th March. Conditions were favourable for Debbie to further intensify, and it soon reached category 2 strength and turned southwest towards the coast. Development then stalled for approximately 24 hours as upper atmospheric conditions became less favourable. Once conditions became favourable again, Debbie rapidly intensified from category 2 to 4 strength during a 12 hour period on 27th March.

A peak wind gust of 263 km/h was recorded at Hamilton Island as Debbie approached the coast on the morning of Tuesday, 28th March which is the highest gust recorded in Queensland. The centre of the eye crossed the mainland near Airlie Beach at approximately 12:40pm AEST. Shortly after crossing, Debbie slowed down to only 7 km/h, and locations such as Airlie Beach and Proserpine were exposed to the very destructive winds near the cyclones core for many hours. Proserpine recorded wind gusts to 165 km/h. Further inland, roofs were removed at Collinsville which experienced category 2 strength winds.

A 2.6 metre storm surge was recorded by the Laguna Quays storm tide gauge (south of the location the cyclone made landfall), which exceeded the Highest Astronomical Tide (HAT) by 0.9 metres, despite the landfall occurring between low and high tide.

Debbie weakened below tropical cyclone strength around 3:00am AEST on Wednesday, 29th March. The remnant low then turned southeast, and produced a broad swathe of damaging winds and torrential rainfall from central Queensland to the southeast. Clarke Range, west of Mackay, received 986mm in the 48 hours to 9am Wednesday, 29th March and Mt Jukes, northwest of Mackay, recorded 635mm in the 24 hours to 9am Thursday, 30th March. Nearly 100 people required assistance from floodwaters in the Eton and Homebush areas of Mackay as the Pioneer River flooded. Several locations in the Fitzroy River basin received up to 1000mm in rainfall over two days, and the Fitzroy River went into major flood warning at Rockhampton during the following week.

Ex-tropical cyclone Debbie tracked southeast over the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane during the afternoon and evening of Thursday, 30th March. Damaging wind gusts of up to 131 km/h were observed along with widespread falls in excess of 150mm. Heavier falls of over 200mm occurred further south over the Gold Coast hinterland and Scenic Rim, and isolated falls of 600mm were recorded. Upper Springbrook, in the Gold Coast hinterland, received 602mm of rainfall in the 24 hours to 9am Friday, 31st March. The Queensland government ordered all schools south of Agnes Water and east of Nanango to close on Thursday due to the threat of flash flooding and damaging winds. Schools from the Sunshine Coast southward remained closed on Friday.

Disastrous river flooding occurred in the Logan and Albert Rivers in far southeast Queensland, and in the Tweed River basin in northeastern New South Wales. 20,000 people were evacuated from the Lismore and Murwillumbah areas.

For more information see the TC Debbie Report (pdf).

Coastal Crossing Details

Crossing time:
12:40pm AEST Tuesday 28 March 2017
Crossing location:
Airlie Beach, 50km southeast of Bowen
Category when crossing the coast:

Extreme Values During Cyclone Event (estimated)

Note that these values may be changed on the receipt of later information

Maximum Category:
Maximum sustained wind speed:
195 km/hr
Maximum wind gust:
263 km/hr
Lowest central pressure:
949 hPa

Track and Intensity

Best Track of Tropical Cyclone Debbie