Tropical Cyclone Ethel

7 - 13 March 1996


Ethel was another small cyclone with gales extending less than 100 km from the centre. During 8 March 1996 a tropical depression was meandering around the southeast Gulf of Carpentaria. It was slowly intensifying and began moving more or less with the middle-level environmental southwesterly flow. By 1200 UTC 8 March 1996 the depression was near the axis of the upper subtropical ridge with strong (to 20 m/s) 200 hPa easterly and southeasterly winds across the Arafura Sea and New Guinea. These upper easterlies and the westerlies to the south provided a good outflow in the upper part of the storm and it reached tropical cyclone strength. During 9 March 1996 it maintained a general northeastward track as an upper trough was developing in Central Australia. Northwesterly winds ahead of the upper trough improved the upper outflow structure and Ethel continued to intensify up to the time of landfall 13 km north of Duyfken Point and 33 km west-northwest of Weipa. The time of landfall was 1700 UTC 9 March 1996. The eye passed over the Ely Mining Camp and a central pressure of 980 hPa was recorded in the eye. Bark was stripped from trees and trees up to one metre in diameter were uprooted. Strips of up to 2 km wide were completely defoliated. The beach area about the point of landfall was completely changed, exposing objects never seen before by the miners, and was obviously affected by large waves and storm surge.

The strongest wind gust of 28 m/s at Weipa Meteorological Office was recorded at 1030 UTC 9 March 1996 when an outer rainband passed over the station. This was at the time the peak storm surge of 1.18 metres was recorded at Weipa. The water level exceed- ed the highest astronomical tide at Weipa by 0.26 metres. Around this time a waverider buoy located 8 km west-southwest of Weipa recorded a significant wave height of 3.76 m and a peak wave height 6.69 m. The peak height reading is the largest wave observed at the Weipa wave recording station in 16 years of operation. At the time Ethel made landfall the winds at Weipa were offshore and a peak negative storm surge of 0.8 metres was recorded.

The upper trough continued to amplify over Central Australia as Ethel crossed Cape York Peninsula and it quickly regained tropical cyclone strength when it moved into the Coral Sea at Temple Bay just after 0000 UTC 10 March 1996. As Ethel crossed Cape York Peninsula, its track turned easterly with the middle-level flow turning westerly across.Queensland north of the trough system. This flow then quickly turned west-northwesterly as the trough at middle and upper levels extended up towards Cape York. Ethel subsequently moved with this flow for 24 hours.

The cyclone turned rapidly back towards the east coast of Cape York Peninsula between 0000 UTC 11 March 1996 and 1200 UTC 11 March 1996 as deep layer ridging developed in the lower half of the tropos- phere to the south of the cyclone. As Ethel moved towards the coast it moved closer to a region of strong upper northwesterly winds over inland Queensland and intensified again before making landfall near Cape Melville around 1800 UTC 11 March 1996. Many ves- sels were sheltering in nearby Princess Charlotte Bay and maximum sustained winds of up to 25-30 m/s were reported. Ethel again crossed Cape York Peninsula with little wind reported on the surface from cattle stations in its path. However, visible satellite imagery revealed it still had a good cyclone structure and quickly regained intensity upon re-entering the Gulf of Carpentaria around 1100 UTC 12 March 1996. Moving westwards then southwestward steered by a deep layered ridge, it again made landfall for the third time in a remote area near Sandy Head just inside the Northern Territory border along the southern coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria

Track and intensity

Best Track of Tropical Cyclone Ethel