These are the Most Destructive Cyclones that have ever Hit Australia in Terms of their Intensity and Extent.
- 1.1 2015 – Cyclone Marcia Category 5
- 1.2 2011 – Cyclone Yasi Category 5
- 1.3 2007 – Cyclone George Category 5
- 1.4 2006 – Cyclone Monica Category 5
- 1.5 2006 – Cyclone Larry Category 4/5*
- 1.6 2005 – Cyclone Ingrid Category 5
- 1.7 1997 – Cyclone Justin Category 2
- 1.8 1995 – Cyclone Bobby Category 4
- 1.9 1989 – Cyclone Orson Category 5
- 1.10 1986 – Cyclone Winifred Category 3
- 1.11 1978 – Cyclone Alby Category 4
- 1.12 1975 – Cyclone Joan Category 5
- 1.13 1974 – Cyclone Tracy Category 4
- 1.14 1972 – Cyclone Emily Category 3
- 1.15 1971 – Cyclone Althea Category 4
- 1.16 1970 – Cyclone Ada Category 4
- 1.17 1954 – The Great Gold Coast Cyclone (Category 3).
- 1.18 1918 – The Mackay Cyclone (Unnamed) Category 4/5*
- 1.19 1918 – The Innisfail Cyclone (Unnamed) Category 5
- 1.20 1899 – Cyclone Mahina Category 5
- 1.21 Further Reading
These are the Most Destructive Cyclones that have ever Hit Australia in Terms of their Intensity and Extent.
Cyclone Yasi struck Queensland in 2011 and was declared one of the strongest storms recorded.
Because early forecasting equipment didn’t give them much warning, the earliest cyclones were often devastating for communities. Even with better warning systems and more coordinated responses strategies, cyclones continue to cause havoc. The maximum wind speed is used to classify them.
However, the real impact of a Cyclone depends on many factors, such as its size, tides and how densely populated it is.
We take a look at the most destructive cyclones that have struck Australia in recent years.
2015 – Cyclone Marcia Category 5
Cyclone Marcia increased from a Category 2 storm to a Category 5 storm just before it crossed the Queensland coast north towards Rockhampton in February 2015. It caused damage to almost 2000 properties and destroyed 350 homes in Yeppoon and Rockhampton, with wind gusts up to 300km/h.
Conservation volunteers worked hard to relocate nests of loggerhead turtles higher on the beaches around Bundaberg in order to prevent dangerous coastal erosion.
2011 – Cyclone Yasi Category 5
Cyclone Yasi swept through northern Queensland, just days after a Category 2 system had struck 200km to its south. Fearing that the city would be directly hit, hospital patients were evacuated from Cairns.
Yasi, however, crossed the coast 40 km to the south and caused major damage to Tully’s infrastructure and vegetation. Millions of dollars in damage was done to yachts in Port Hinchinbrook. One young man died after being asphyxiated from fumes while he was sheltering with his generator.
Cyclone Yasi was a particularly large Queensland cyclone and virtually stretched from North QLD to Sothern QLD.
2007 – Cyclone George Category 5
More than 1000 people were left homeless after Cyclone George crossed over the WA coast northeast to Port Hedland. One of the worst-hit was an itinerant worker at a camp located 100km southeast of Port Hedland.The temporary accommodation they were staying in was not designed to withstand the cyclonic winds. Many of their dongas were also destroyed. This resulted in two deaths and many injuries. George was the most devastating cyclone to hit the Port Hedland area since Cyclone Joan 1975. Strong winds caused extensive damage with wind gusts reaching 200km/h.
2006 – Cyclone Monica Category 5
Cyclone Monica’s strong wind gusts decimated a weather station on the Top End coast of April 2006. Although it moved through remote areas, the storm did not cause any serious injuries or deaths. Darwin’s ANZAC Day celebrations were cancelled. One of the worst-hit areas was Maningrida in Arnhem Land, 35km away from where Monica made landfall.
2006 – Cyclone Larry Category 4/5*
Just one month prior to Cyclone Monica, Cyclone Larry hit northern Queensland near Innisfail. About 10,000 buildings were damaged by the storm and subsequent floods, with 500 of them completely destroyed. Helicopters transported food and other emergency supplies to many towns that were affected by the floods.
Larry caused damage of around $300 million to Australia’s banana crops, accounting for about 80 per cent of the total. As a result, thousands of people lost their jobs and the banana price rose nationwide. Avocados worth $15 million were also destroyed by the cyclone.
2005 – Cyclone Ingrid Category 5
Ingrid caused extensive damage in two states and one territory. This was an unusual occurrence. It was a category 4 hurricane that crossed Cape York. Then it intensified to a Category 5 hurricane, before battering the coast and islands along the NT’s Arnhem land coast. Finally, it crossed WA’s Kimberley Coast as a Category 4.
Five people were killed when their boat was swept away by large waves near Kerema in Papua New Guinea.
1997 – Cyclone Justin Category 2
Cyclone Justin passed the Queensland coast north of Cairns, on 22 March. It then moved inland and turned southeast before heading back out to sea. Strong winds, heavy rain, and storm surges caused widespread damage in the area between Cairns, Townsville and Townsville.
Two people died in Australia: one was killed by a landslide close to Townsville, and the other electrocuted at Innisfail from a fallen powerline. Justin was one of 30 people who died in Papua New Guinea earlier in his life.
1995 – Cyclone Bobby Category 4
Cyclone Bobby travelled the length of the northwest Australian coast, finally making landfall in the vicinity of Onslow (northeast of Exmouth) just after midnight on 26/02/2003. Onslow received more than 400mm of rainfall, which caused flooding in many areas throughout Western and Southern WA.
One motorist died trying to cross a flooded creek. Seven other people were also killed when two fishing boats sank off the coast of Onslow.
1989 – Cyclone Orson Category 5
Although Orson was the strongest cyclone to hit WA, its speed meant that many people were only exposed for a short time. Orson moved at 28 km/h when it crossed the coast at Cape Preston west of Karratha on 23 April.
A gas station at sea recorded wind gusts of up to 275 km/h shortly before the cyclone hit. Pannawonica was a mining town. Several buildings were damaged, but Karratha (and Dampier) were spared with only minor damage. Four Indonesian fishermen died off the coast of Australia in rough seas near Ashmore Island.
1986 – Cyclone Winifred Category 3
Cyclone Winifred, a severe storm that struck northern Queensland on February 1, was the worst to hit the region in more than 14 years. It crossed the Queensland coast south from Innisfail. According to a Bureau of Meteorology report, the public was not well-versed in tropical cyclones.
One man, an elderly man, died after being blown off his roof by the storm. Another person was killed in the floods. A teenage girl died of injuries from flying debris. The flooding of the Herbert River and Tully rivers added to the destruction of infrastructure and crops.
1978 – Cyclone Alby Category 4
Alby, a rare extratropical cyclone, caught southwest WA residents off guard in April 1978. Alby was a reminder that cyclones rarely reach this far south. However, Alby proved to be just as dangerous as their tropical counterparts.
Alby was the most destructive storm to hit the region, killing five people. Alby did not actually make landfall but the strong winds generated a flurry of uncontrolled fires. Collectively, the fires destroyed approximately 114,000 hectares worth of farmland and forest.
1975 – Cyclone Joan Category 5
Cyclone Joan, a strong storm that struck Australia’s Pilbara coast in Port Hedland on March 13, 2011, was the strongest to hit Australia. Around 85 per cent of the homes were destroyed, a hospital was damaged and many caravans were flipped, which adversely affected the area’s many miners who travel around the country.
One witness said that the wind was so strong that small crabs were brought in from the sea under her door. While there were no human lives lost, heavy livestock losses were suffered by graziers.
1974 – Cyclone Tracy Category 4
The disaster that Cyclone Tracy caused to Darwin on Christmas Day 1974 was devastating. Tracy whipped through the city at speeds of over 200 km/h and left more than half its 43,000 residents homeless. Three-quarters of the city’s population fled within weeks. Many people never came back. At least 65 people died and attitudes about cyclones in Australia changed for the better.
1972 – Cyclone Emily Category 3
Cyclone Emily passed the Queensland coast in a small populated area southeast of Gladstone. Although the cyclone was already weakening, it dissipated quickly upon landing. However, flooding continued to occur in Kingaroy as well as parts of Brisbane.
The storm’s full force was felt at sea, where Emily was the strongest. In three separate incidents off Queensland’s southern and central coasts, eight people were drowned on their boats.
1971 – Cyclone Althea Category 4
On Christmas Eve, Cyclone Althea struck Townsville and was the strongest to hit the city. Three people died, hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed in Townsville and most homes on Magnetic Island were damaged. The damage assessment’s recommendations changed the way Queensland homes were built and formed the basis of the first state-wide building codes.
1970 – Cyclone Ada Category 4
Ada caused havoc on the Whitsunday Islands group off the Queensland coast over two days in January 1970. The Daydream, Hook, South Molle, Hayman, Long and Hook islands were worst affected, along with the area between Bowen Mackay and the mainland. At least 13 people died in the storm.
1954 – The Great Gold Coast Cyclone (Category 3).
Unofficially, the ‘Great Gold Coast Cyclone,’ as it was known, hit southern Queensland and northern NSW in an era where cyclones were not named. From Noosa to Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Byron Bay, the cyclone caused extensive damage.
The storm claimed the lives of at least 26 people. Byron Bay’s whole fishing fleet was swept away, and trees over 1m diameter were swept off the ground. The calmer conditions brought about the rescue of around 30 people when the eye of the Cyclone passed over Macintosh Island, Gold Coast. The island was inundated by floodwater shortly after the rescue.
1918 – The Mackay Cyclone (Unnamed) Category 4/5*
This cyclone struck Mackay, Queensland in January 1918. It was a powerful system that caused extensive damage along Queensland’s coast up to Rockhampton. 1400 homes were affected by the flooding.
As a result, 30 people were killed. The town was isolated from its surroundings and supplies by the destruction of the roads and railway lines. Residents took five days to send out word to alert the rest of Australia.
1918 – The Innisfail Cyclone (Unnamed) Category 5
Innisfail, Queensland, was home to 3500 residents before 10th March 1918. Only 12 houses survived the cyclone. The town lost 37 people, and there are likely to be 60 more in nearby areas. Storm surges in the Bingil Bay/Mission Beach region swept hundreds of kilometres inland, leaving debris 7 m high in some trees.
1899 – Cyclone Mahina Category 5
The Worst Natural Disaster In Australian History
The worst cyclone to ever strike Queensland in history, Cyclone Mahina, which may have killed more than 400 people in March 1899 when it hit Princess Charlotte Bay, Cape York Peninsula, made it Australia’s most deadly natural disaster.
Queensland researchers attempted to alter records that stated the storm was 914 hecto pascals in intensity (a measure of central tension, which is more severe than low numbers). They were able to believe that the actual figure was 880hPa. This makes it one of the most intense and destructive cyclones in history.
*It is not clear whether Cyclone Larry or the 1918 Mackay cyclone were Category 4 or 5.