Tropical Cyclones in Australia: A Guide for Visitors

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The hot summer months in Australia create ideal conditions for cyclones along the northern tropical coast. Here’s what you need to know if you’re travelling in an area where a cyclone is forecast.

Cyclones are circulating low pressure systems that cause gale force winds. They are also known as hurricanes or typhoons in other parts of the world.

Tropical cyclones in Australia are a risk in the wet season (December-April) along the coastlines in tropical North Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. They don’t necessarily happen every year but when they do they can be incredibly unpredictable.

cyclone categories

The Bureau of Meteorology rates cyclones in Australia according to the intensity of their wind speed as follows:

  • Category 1: Winds below 125 kilometres an hour
  • Category 2: Winds between 125 – 164 kilometres
  • Category 3: Winds between 165 – 224 kilometres
  • Category 4: Winds between 225 – 279 kilometres
  • Category 5: Winds above 280 kilometres (widespread destruction)

Category 4 and 5 cyclones can be very destructive and should be taken seriously. The winds and rain tend to be worse on the southern side of the cyclone. Widespread damage can also be caused by the associated torrential rain and storm surges that come with a cyclone.

cyclone advice for visitors

cyclonemap1Our advice would always be to leave the area if you can, especially if it’s a category 4 or 5.

Some visitors like to stay in the area so they can experience a cyclone firsthand but what they often don’t realise is that it is the aftermath of the cyclone that isn’t much fun – shops and businesses closed, no fresh food and no power (which means no TV, no aircon, no ATM’s, no petrol etc).

After a cyclone the roads into the area are often flooded so if you choose to stay you may be stranded for a few days.

Australian cyclones need to be taken seriously but if you prepare well you will be okay.

Getting prepared

australian cyclone tracking map1.    Stay informed

As a cyclone starts to make its way towards the coast the local TV and radio stations broadcast regular advice updates. You can also track Australian cyclones by checking www.bom.gov.au.

You can see from this tracking map just how unpredictable cyclones can be. This cyclone (Tropical Cyclone Nathan) was swirling around going in different directions for two weeks.

The nature of cyclones makes it difficult to predict where and when they will make landfall with any accuracy. Consequently its important to keep tracking the cyclone at regular intervals so you’re well prepared.

2.    Find a safe location to ride out the storm

Most hotels and resorts will have a safe place to bunker down. They should also be a good source of information (talk to locals who know and understand the process). If you’re camping, book into a hotel or find the nearest cyclone shelter (often large shopping centres).

3.    Prepare an emergency kit

Put together a bag of emergency essentials that you can take with you if you need to evacuate. These include your passport, travel documentation, any other important identification, cash, emergency contact numbers and any medication you may need.

4.    Withdraw money from the ATM

A lot of people don’t realise that if there is a power outage and no electricity, ATM machines won’t work and you won’t be able to withdraw cash. Also, if the shops don’t have power they can only accept cash.

5.    Make sure you have a full tank of petrol

Fuel pumps at petrol stations also run on electricity so make sure you have a full tank and get there early before the long lines start to build up.

6.    Stock up on essentials

As soon as a cyclone warning is issued the locals all head down to the shops to stock up on essential items like canned food, rice, pasta, bread, bottled water and batteries (for torches and radios). If you leave it too late there will be empty shelves. Plan for 2-3 days.

after a cyclone has passed

picture of fallen tree after cycloneThe usual advice immediately after a cyclone is to stay inside and not wander around because fallen power lines can be extremely hazardous.

Sometimes the power can be out for up to a week but most hotels have generators so visitors usually have access to basic comforts.

However, local businesses may take time to get started up again.

travel nq fast facts:

  • Cyclones are made up of two main ingredients – thunderstorms and warm water. When the sea surface temperature is above 26.5 degrees celsius, the warm sea water rises and evaporates, forming clouds. Thunderstorm activity then actually helps the heat stored in the ocean fuel the developing cyclone. The rotation of the earth added to the heat energy contributes to the circular spin of the wind and a cyclone is formed.
  • Cyclones in Australia are given their names from a list of alternating male and female names by the Bureau of Meteorology.

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