Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays
Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays

The knockout blow for our lockdown-hit north

North Queensland tourism operators hard hit by coronavirus would be devastated if predictions for two cyclones this summer eventuate, the state's tourism and business bodies say.

Sky News Weather chief meteorologist Tom Saunders said four or five cyclones were forecast to develop in the Coral Sea this wet season, with one or two expected to make landfall in the north.

"Last year … was an exceptional year where we had bushfires, we had the worst drought on record for many parts of eastern and southern Australia, and we had frequent dust storms," he said.

"Because of a developing La Nina in the Pacific Ocean, the threat this year will be more in the form of heavy rain, flooding and tropical cyclones."

Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland senior policy adviser Gus Mandigora said businesses in the north had weathered a series of disasters in recent months and a cyclone could spell disaster.

"Many have no cash reserves left, they've done everything they can to make it through to now, and they really need to have their doors open and customers coming in so they can trade profitably and get back on their feet," he said.

Airlie Beach residents Maika McDonald, Lauren Squires, Karen Gordon and Katelin Gordon survey the damage at Shute Harbour after Cyclone Debbie.
Airlie Beach residents Maika McDonald, Lauren Squires, Karen Gordon and Katelin Gordon survey the damage at Shute Harbour after Cyclone Debbie.


Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said operators were looking to this summer season to bring much-needed economic relief to operators.

"The moment there is talk of a severe weather event, we know that people cancel trips, they stop booking, even when the forecasts are vague or effecting other parts … if there is a cyclone warning for the Torres Strait, people think the whole of Queensland is under threat," he said.

When Cyclone Debbie cut Airlie Beach's power for weeks in 2017, Elise Jiggins bathed her sons in a creek.

"When the notification came through that they weren't going to connect it for another two weeks, I wasn't going to cope any further with children," she said.

"We got on a plane that was basically just full of children with one adult who was accompanying them to Brisbane."

Mr Saunders said the strongest cyclones historically happened in La Nina periods, but it was far too early to forecast what stretch of the tropical coastline was most likely to be impacted.

Dozens of luxury boats were smashed together at the Port Hinchinbrook marina in Cardwell during Cyclone Yasi.
Dozens of luxury boats were smashed together at the Port Hinchinbrook marina in Cardwell during Cyclone Yasi.


"The last time we had a La Nina back in the period from 2010 to early 2012, that was a period when we did see major tropical cyclones, including Tropical Cyclone Yasi, hit the Queensland coast," he said.

The La Nina pattern is also likely to bring above-average rainfall across most of Queensland, with a 60-70 per cent chance rainfall will exceed long-term averages.

"Impressively, we've had some rain through the northwest inland, which is quite uncommon. Juliet Creek has had 28mm of rain this month - they average 5.5mm of rain in September," Mr Saunders said.

"This is typical La Nina weather when you get an earlier than normal wet season.

"Despite the forecast of a wetter season compared to the last few, it's still likely to be warmer than normal through many parts of Queensland over the next seven months, but not to the extent that we saw during the last wet season."

Thunderstorms in southeast Queensland are likely to be less frequent and severe this year, with 14-18 days of severe thunderstorms predicted for Brisbane, down from the average of 20 days.



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