Drenching rain from ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald hits Townsville.
Drenching rain from ex-Tropical Cyclone Oswald hits Townsville.

When cyclones struck the southeast

JUST a handful of cyclones have hit southeast Queensland in the past 120 years - but when they do venture south, they can be devastating.

The Bureau of Meteorology acknowledges "they don't happen all that often", mostly due to the drier climate that inhibits their development and subsequent destruction.

But there has been carnage: four people killed in 1949, 26 in 1954, 14 in 1970 - all from cyclones pummelling the coast south of Gladstone.

Cyclones require three criteria: a sea surface temperature above 26C, a strict requirement of moisture all the way to the centre, and the wind in the upper atmosphere must be maintained to keep momentum.

Under these conditions, southeast Queensland can be inundated with flash flooding, torrential rainfall and damaging winds, leaving homes torn apart, communities destroyed, and many mourning the lives that have been lost.



MARCH 24, 1890

Numerous people died as this devastating unnamed cyclone swept across the coast near Cardwell and recurved over Fraser Island a couple days later on 28 March.

It resulted in disastrous floods over much of Queensland and northern New South Wales which saw only four houses left standing in Cardwell, the rest wholly blown down, unroofed or destroyed.

At South Barnard Island two men drowned while two men died in Halifax when a house blew down on one and another drowned at a plantation.

Drownings continued across Mackay, Beaudesert and Stanthorpe, while two policemen went missing in floodwaters near Dalby.

A man was killed by lightning in Emu Park.

In Townsville, 110 people were homeless while 100 people had to be evacuated from floods in Roma. Breakwater saw levels of 1.8m above high water spring tides.





FEBRUARY 12, 1918

Hitting Brisbane and tearing down the New South Wales coast, this also unnamed cyclone caused 30 known deaths and resulted in numerous ships losing their crews out at sea.

After a ship left Wollongong on the 14th, it was driven ashore near Bulli and a crew of eight drowned while another man died on the shore from shock.
Thirteen of another crew were lost at sea after the ship Atocama was abandoned 500nm off the coast.

The cyclone also caused two men to drown at Bungendore, near Canberra.


MARCH 2, 1949

Four people were killed and 15 towns were significantly damaged when this tropical cyclone made landfall passing over Gladstone and Rockhampton.

Rockhampton saw 1000 homes damaged and 500 were wrecked. Two men were killed in Rockhampton while three drovers died in severe floods in central Queensland.

Maximum wind gusts of 87 knots were recorded.


FEBRUARY 20, 1954

Twenty-six people died in the tropical cyclone that crossed the coast at Coolangatta and headed into Cudgen in New South Wales. Trees were twisted out of the ground amid widespread structural damage along the Gold and Sunshine Coasts and around Brisbane. Families located around the Nerang River on the Gold Coast had to be evacuated due to floods and a storm surge, while 2m of water flooded on to the highway from Kirra beach. Springbrook, in the Gold Coast Hinterland, recorded 900mm of rain in the 24 hour period up to the cyclone's landfall. The Northern Star called it the "most disastrous floods ever experienced on the Far North Coast" with waters that "gushed into Lismore, trapping hundreds and inflicting damage beyond any figure that veterans had realised possible".



Gold Coast beach erosion caused by Cyclone Dinah in 1967
Gold Coast beach erosion caused by Cyclone Dinah in 1967



JANUARY 28-30, 1967 - DINAH

The Gold Coast was pounded again just a few years later when Cyclone Dinah erupted from the Coral Sea, lingering ominously off the coastline, killing a total of 15 people. Although never crossing the coast, Dinah managed to cause enough destruction to make it look like it had. At Fingal, 500 people were isolated as waters rose dangerously high while a house was washed to sea at Cribb Island admist the flooding over more than 100 homes in the area. A 75ft tower was blown over in the damage while numerous houses were unroofed as the cyclone battered through Heron Island, Bundaberg, Maryborough, and along the Sunshine and Gold Coasts.



Flooded Margaret St, Brisbane, during the 1974 floods
Flooded Margaret St, Brisbane, during the 1974 floods


JANUARY 24, 1974 - WANDA

Wanda was recorded as a weak cyclone as it crossed the coast near Maryborough in early 1974, however twelve people drowned in the Brisbane and Ipswich area as the region suffered through a recorded 900mm of rainfall and a city submerged under 2m of the Brisbane River after torrential rain lashed the coast. Mt Glorious recorded a staggering 1318mm. The Brisbane and Ipswich region saw over 6000 homes flooded with the damage estimated by the Bureau to cost $200 million. Thousands of people had to be evacuated on the Gold Coast as houses were inundated with up to 1.5m of water and the Nerang River hit a record level of 9.91m. Tewantin and Caloundra recorded 50 knot easterly winds while Cape Moreton averaged 56 knot easterly winds. In total, 16 people were killed, over 300 injured and 8000 people left homeless.



JANUARY 28, 1990 - NANCY

Developing from a cloud cluster and sweeping in from the Coral Sea, Cyclone Nancy wreaked havoc with two depressions forming resulting in 100km/h winds. The Brisbane region saw heavy rain of up to 530mm in 24 hours with 132mm recorded in three hours. Flash flooding devastated the city and saw four people drown. By 4 February, Nancy became an extratropical low and dissipated west of central New Zealand four days later.




Airlie Beach in the Whitsunday Coast was first hit by this large and powerful category-four system, devastating the tourism industry after numerous resorts and businesses were significantly damaged. In total, 14 lives were lost from severe tropical cyclone Debbie as it ravaged the Whitsundays area with peak wind gusts of 263km/h and a 2.6m storm surge in Laguna Quays. The remnants of the tropical low moved southeast over the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane with damaging wind gusts of 131km/h, before hitting the Gold Coast with heavy rainfall of over 200mm, with Upper Springbrook in the Hinterland recording 602mm. In Lismore and Murwillumbah, 20,000 people were evacuated. One million dollars was pledged by the government to assist a number of organisations to distribute supplies during the aftermath.

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