'Don’t Panic – Surviving Extremes': Bureau information
Bushfires, floods, tropical cyclones, heatwaves – Australians are all too familiar with extreme weather. But are you prepared for a natural disaster?
On Sunday 1 December 2013 ABC’s Catalyst broadcast a one-hour feature 'Don’t Panic – Surviving Extremes'.
Catalyst explored preparedness for extreme weather by throwing two ordinary Australian families into separate disaster scenarios – a catastrophic bushfire in NSW and a Category 3 tropical cyclone in the Tweed Heads region.
The Bureau of Meteorology provided the extreme weather scenarios, as well as information on Australia’s climate trends. This page includes the material we supplied to Catalyst, and links to critical Bureau pages to check during extreme weather events.
As highlighted by Catalyst, now is the time to 'Get Prepared'.
'Tropical cyclone Jonica'
Catalyst’s very own tropical cyclone Jonica was created to mimic a real event that affected South East Queensland and Northern New South Wales between 16–20 February 1954.
During this event, the edge of the eye passed over Coolangatta, with the worst damage in the Cudgen area in NSW. Widespread structural damage was also experienced in Brisbane and on the Gold and Sunshine coasts. A 0.64 m storm surge was recorded on the Moreton Bay gauge. The onshore impact of this surge resulted in boats being lodged in the tree tops at Beachmere.
Springbrook recorded 900 mm of rain in the 24 hour period prior to the system making landfall, and floods combined with storm surge on the Nerang River caused evacuations. The floods and cyclone then hit the Lismore district, with gales whipping up large waves on the Richmond River.
Parts of Byron Bay were flooded and the outer section of the jetty at Byron Bay was swept away, taking with it 22 vessels. Tragically, 30 people died during these events.
Related Bureau services
- Tropical cyclones
Bureau warnings for this scenario
The Catalyst fire scenario presents a day of very strong west to north-westerly winds averaging up to 55 km/h, record high temperatures reaching 46°C in Sydney city, and very low relative humidity below 5 per cent. The Forest Fire Danger Index was said to exceed 'Severe' for 12 hours during the day, peaking at the 'Catastrophic' level from 2 pm to 8 pm. As part of the scenario, conditions leading up this day were said to be very dry.
Although the weather conditions in the scenario have yet to be experienced in a single day in Sydney, such conditions are not outside the realm of possibility as shown by weather readings in Sydney this year, as well as the culmination of such conditions occurring in other parts of the country.
On 18 January 2013, Sydney recorded 45.8°C, breaking the all-time temperature record for the capital city. On 10 September, hot, dry, north-westerly winds averaged between 45–55 km/h for the better part of an 8-hour period.
All that is required for the Catalyst weather scenario to play out is for these extreme weather conditions to align on the same day.
Prolonged periods of hot, dry westerly winds are a feature of Sydney’s worst bushfire weather conditions which generally occur in NSW in spring and early summer. Examples in recent years are the fires of the 1993–1994, 1997–1998, 2001–2002 and 2003–2004 summers.
From July 2013 New South Wales received very little rainfall. This, combined with an exceptionally warm winter and spring, contributed to much drier than average conditions that were made worse by persistent dry westerly winds and hot days. Widespread bushfires broke out during early October. The NSW RFS confirmed that a total of 208 homes were destroyed and 122 were damaged across the State during this event.
Australia’s climate trends
The below graphics were created by Catalyst for the Don't Panic special, using information provided by the Bureau of Meteorology. We have provided some explanatory text for each.