is a tropical cyclone and what to do to stay safe?
Wet Season in the tropics we are all threatened by destructive
cyclones that can hit the coast.
Due to the direction in which the Earth rotates, in the big picture
they move from east to west, and so they often hit the
Locally, though, they
can change direction and move in any direction
for a little while.
It is important to be
aware of what they are and how to protect your
life and your property.
What Is a Tropical Cyclone?
A tropical cyclone is a powerful, rotating wind system that
forms above warm
ocean waters during the hottest time of the year, and has destructive
winds rotating around a calm eye in
It doesn't mean much until it
hits the coast and threatens life and property.
Speed and Categories A
tropical low pressure
system, which is always the start of a cyclone, will become a cyclone
once its winds reach 100 km/h.
Cat one is 100-124 km/h, cat two is 125-164 km/h, cat three is
165-224km/h, cat four is 225-279 km/h and cat five is more than 280
A tropical cyclone and a hurricane are basically the same thing.
small differences include that being in the Northern Hemisphere
hurricanes have the opposite wind direction; and that due to
the differences in categorising the power of a
hurricane equals a 'severe' tropical cyclone.
However a cyclone and a tornado are two entirely different things.
While a tornado also is a violent system of rotating winds just like a
cyclone, a tornado is smaller (area-wise) and usually a lot stronger;
as opposed to tropical cyclones it forms above the land, and it comes from thunderstorms.
That means they form in
Australia, and during the warmer part of the year. The season is November to
April (included), and yes you can prepare before the season starts.
Advice - Watch and Warnings
If a cyclone is likely to affect an area within 48 hours, that area
gets what is
updated every six hours and gives
information about the cyclone's location, movement and strength.
hours is left, you get the more serious cyclone
When you get the cyclone warnings it is the high time to clean your
yard, tape your windows, secure your car, boat, caravan, and important documents. If you are travelling
and a cyclone is coming,
out of the area, or discuss what to do with your accommodation provider.
Evacuation Procedures Within
the last 24 hours you
also have to decide whether you stay or leave.
If you stay at home you
stay in the safest room, but if you don't feel safe at home and
particularly if you live in flooding or storm
surge area, you should
evacuate either to a different place, or to a cyclone shelter.
Whether you stay at home or evacuate, you also prepare a cyclone kit.
If you stay at home, it means having the things prepared and handy, if
you evacuate you bring the kit with you, and the contents can differ
depending on whether you evacuate to a cyclone shelter or stay in
accommodation or at friends and relatives.
It can be
dangerous, and there are also things
that you will
have to prepare. In the early aftermath you have to watch out for
hanging branches and power lines, then you have the post cyclone
cleaning, and most likely you have no power and no water supply.
Where Do they Hit and How Strong
wall after Larry
Sign in Tully
A sign in El
lost roof in Ita
devastation by Larry
Yasi sign in
in Sth Johnstone
After Larry in
cyclone-hit areas are the coasts of north Queensland,
Territory and the Kimberley
Australia, however an
occasional cyclone may head as far south as towards Brisbane
(in which case they often weaken due to cooler waters).
A tropical cyclone gets its power from hot ocean water, and once it
coast and crosses the land, it dies off as it continues
Thus, it is most
destructive on the coast,
and once it crosses the inland it doesn't do that much wind damage but
it does bring very heavy rain for a long time, sometimes weeks, and can cause floods where it crosses
It sometimes crosses
Cape York peninsula is a very good example, and comes out to the water again.
it is still a tropical low (i. e. hasn't died off proplerly) when it
comes out to
the water again, it may reform to a cyclone.
is a scale from one to
five that gives a tropical cyclone a category number
depending on the strength of its winds (the scale of American
is also one to five but the wind strength for each category is somewhat
tropical cyclone does, does of course not only depend on
category but also where it hits and what kind of buildings are there.
nowadays the buildings in northern Australia are built cyclone safe,
there are also some remote areas that still take damage even from
you are camping in the bush with no shelter, you are still
very vulnerable even to a low category tropical cyclone. Tropical
Cyclone Larry and Yasi
There are at least some tropical cyclones hitting
Australia every year, and while most are low category (Oswald,Zane
having been some of the
latest around Cape York), we have
some cat fives only as recently as in 2006
(Yasi .. read more about cyclone
names). Both left behind
with a lot of buildings,
including private homes damaged or totally demolished, as well as the
landscapes totally changed from lush green rainforests to bare
broken tree skeletons. Tropical
And the severe cyclone
Ita in April 2014
was a Cat five,
said stronger than Yasi, until it was downgraded
right in the
end of its path,
saving our beautiful Cooktown and most likely our own roof.
Only 11 months later, severe cyclone
again threatened Cooktown, ending up crossing the land north of it as
Cyclone destruction is an ugly
- it totally looks like an
atomic bomb went off (here is some more photos).
Severe cyclones are of course life
threatening and the only reason why no lives were lost was
We locals do
in the yard
so minimal amount of debris is flying around.
If it's a higher category cyclone, we tape
an X across the
windows to increase their strength.
We stock up tin food
because it lasts and the shops may be closed for a long time.
also smart to stock up
water supplies would be affected.
There may be a period of time without power or phone lines in which
only source of power will be generators
so we make
sure we have them.
And it's smart to get some cash
out because if there is no power in
town, ATMs and banks won't work either.
We either keep
ourselves inside during the cyclone, or we
Inside the house it
has to be a room with no windows - typically the bathroom.
learn from each cyclone.
Once you have been through acyclone
sitting inside your house, you know whether you want to put yourself
through the scary experience again or whether you choose to simply
leave the place (which many did before Yasi, with memories from Larry
definition - what is a tropical cyclone?
It is a powerful system of very strong
winds that rotate around a calm centre that is called the
eye of the cyclone. The
weather brought by
the winds is always very rainy with grey skies, but in the eye there
is very little wind and the skies are often clear.
The diametre of the eye can be anything from 10 to 100 km but most
often it is around 40-50.
Around the eye is the so called eye
wall, where the winds are the strongest.
Further out the gale force winds can extend as far as hundreds of
Warning and Cyclone
warning is more serious than cyclone watch.
is threatening your
area and there is 24 hours left until the
landfall, you get cyclone
warnings through TV and radio. These are
issued every three hours (and more often the closer it gets) and give
information about the cyclone, when
it should hit, and what category
it is predicted to be.
It shows the map from the BOM website, along with where it formed, its current exact location,
and its predicted path.
It shows how strong
winds it has,
it has, and how quickly
it is currently moving.
It shows the current
category of the
cyclone, and explains its predicted
As opposed to cyclone watch, it also tells you about any forecasts of heavy rainfall,
flooding and any possible storm
If you are getting cyclone warnings you
should listen to your radio and start cyclone
soon as possible.
Cyclone watch is the first
Twenty four hours before a cyclone hits your area, you will get cyclone
But before that - 48 hours before it arrives - you are issued cyclone watch every
It informs you about
the cyclone's location, size and direction, but not much more at this
But there are things to
do even while you are on the watch:
Regularly check TV and radio cyclone advice.
Talk to your family members and make sure everyone knows what to do.
Check so your neighbours are aware of the cyclone.
Start planning and
getting into cyclone
and also preparing the cyclone
page you have the cyclone emergency evacuation procedures.
bushfires and many other disasters, an important part of your cyclone
preparation is to decide
whether you stay at home or leave the place.
You are usually only ordered to leave if you risk flooding or storm
surge, but if you don't feel safe at home, of course it is your choice
whether to leave.
It is recommended you go to friends and relatives if possible, but if
those are too far you can go to your closest cyclone shelter.
Procedures If You Stay at Home
turned off your power, gas and water, unplugged all appliances, and you
keep listening to your
battery operated radio.
Shelter in the strongest
part of your house - which in most cases is bathroom,
toilet or hallway - a room with no windows.
If your home starts breaking up, seek extra safety by
sheltering under a table or bed, and using matresses and blankets for
Do not go out even during
the calm eye - the winds that hit right after it come
quickly and are the strongest winds.
Have your cyclone kit
Procedures If you Evacuate
If you do decide to leave your
Unplug all appliances and turn off power, gas and water.
Make sure you have enough
fuel and leave
early enough to not to get caught in heavy traffic or
Use one car per family to avoid contributing to heavy traffic.
Make sure all your family members wear suitable clothes and strong shoes.
Bring your cyclone kit and clothes for sleeping.
Bring your most important
things - lap top, important documents, family
photos and anything else you don't want to lose.
Depending on where you are going to stay over night, you may have to bring bedding.
Depending on where you go, you
may have to bring some food.
But in any case do bring
drinking water and enough of it.
Procedures - Cyclone Shelter
Make sure a cyclone shelter is
activated or you may get there and it is closed. They do
announce officially if they activate one.
Make your mind up early, and go
early enough to make sure you get in.
Cyclone shelters don't have endless space, and they can close early - once the winds reach 100km/h
- to avoid the situation where people are out there in too strong winds.
There is only so much parking space, so use one car per family.
Cyclone shelters are not
the most comfortable places to sleep. If you do have friends
and relatives close enough consider them - it will be more
fun and more comfortable.
They don't allow
you to bring unregistered pets or any
They don't provide any
food - you have to bring that yourself and they do allow
They do have a drinking water machine, but only until the water system
It will get broken in strong cyclones so do bring your own water bottle.
And most importantly - to
a shelter you do have to bring not only bedding (pillows
and blankets) but also a
matress or a camping bed - or else you are going to sleep
on the hard floor!
And all that said I am talking about the Cooktown
shelter - some
evacuation procedures in some other shelters may be different.
Impact in North
is the cyclone impact for you as a traveller?
know that tropical
cyclones cause a lot of wind damage, destroy property, tropical
flatten banana fields, but what
the impact for you as a traveller?
If there is a tropical cyclone up north, will north Queensland close down?
And how long will it
take before you
will be able to travel up here? Well a
tropical cyclone has two
main kinds of impact.
Tropical Cyclone Impact - Wind
The first is
the wind destruction
and damage. That mostly happens with high category cyclones, but if
it's a remote area, where the buildings are not always cyclone proof,
low category cyclones can cause damage too.
That damage can be devastating for locals, but does not make much difference for
you as a
traveller (provided, of course, that you are in a safe
power and phone lines are usually fixed within days, and as soon as the power is back, the
businesses reopen, and the life returns to normal.It is a quick rise of coastal ocean
water, due to a low pressure system - often a tropical
Cyclone Impact - Storm Surge
surge happens because out on the ocean the low pressure system and the
strong winds are pushing on the surface of the ocean, so as the cyclone
is coming towards the coast, the
rise can come to the coast and the water can come over low lying areas.
like a tsunami, the
water can move in quickly and
cause serious damage to the coastal buildings. All tropical cyclones
cause a storm surge, but not all are dangerous.
Obviously the stronger
the cyclone winds, the higher and more damaging
can be the surge.
The quicker the cyclone
moves to the coast, the higher is the surge.
And if it coincides with high
tide that also makes it a lot worse.
And some other local
factors that affect it
include the shape of the sea floor, the shape of the headlands and
bays, and the angle at which the tropical cyclone is approaching the
Cyclone Impact - Rain
destruction, and no matter how strong a cyclone is, it always brings some rain with
often a lot of it.
start during the cyclone, sometimes even before, and can last for anything from a few days
week, sometimes two, but that's about the most.
Will those rains cause floods in north Queensland?
Well, while the rains
locally they can. The river and creek waters do go up, some people can
get flooded in if
they are living on low laying land.
But what is the difference from south eastern Queensland - famously the
ground for the 2010-11 floods (also the 2013 floods brought by Cyclone
- is that our floods
don't last much
longer than the rains.
We are on higher grounds, our ground is not as flood prone.
Once the cyclone rains
are gone, the
creeks and rivers go down quite quickly, and pretty soon the cyclone
impact is gone.
Queensland does not shut down,
after a week or two the life goes on as ever before :-)
Rain and Cyclone Impact in
Is Cape York any different?
Well only when it comes to the fact that the roads are unsealed and
obviously get more boggy and slippery.
When it comes to how
rivers and creeks go down, it can be the matter of hours after the rain
stops (depending on how long and heavy it was).
So even if Cyclone Zane
did hit the
coast, its impact would not have
lasted to June or July - not even the second half of May in fact (2013).
Coming and You Are
what to do if you are travelling and there is a cyclone coming.
Australia, including Cape York, during the cyclone season, you have to follow the news and
regularly check the BOM website
to make sure you know in a good time if there is a
tropical cyclone or a tropical low
forming on the
ocean near you.
Have wireless internet and
battery operated radio
spare batteries) so that you can keep up with news even if the power
If a tropical cyclone is anywhere in the Australian waters, you will first know about it from
BOM website and then the news. If there
is a cyclone coming to your area you are issued cyclone watch, and once
it hits within 24 hours you get cyclone warnings.
wherever you are, talk
to the locals and see what they are doing.
are staying in
accommdation or a caravan park - talk to the manager or owner about
to do - they are locals and they know.
If you are in an accommodation and get the order to evacuate (due to
flooding or storm surge), again talk to your accommodation manager.
There are cyclone
shelters in many towns and communities where people take
shelter during the cyclone.
This is not a smart season to go bush camping - but luckily the Wet
Season with rains, floods and road closures stops most people from
doing it anyway.
page you have a little cyclone photo album.
the photos are of
Larry (2006) and Yasi (2011). The first
coast between Cairns in the north and Mission Beach in the south and
the second between Mission Beach in the north and Townsville in the
this 50 pages
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gear by my vehicle-recovery-guy partner).
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