Tropcial cyclone debbie australian queensland
Cyclone debbie satellite imagery
  • Duration: 23 March – 30 March 2017
  • Peak intensity: 175 km/h (110 mph) (10-min) 949 hPa (mbar) Cat 4

Cyclone Debbie – The Second Most Deadliest Australian Cyclone

The tropical storm is the second deadliest cyclone in Australia and Queensland’s history, with losses only exceeded by Cyclone Tracey and a total death toll of 14 people. The video above shows some of the severe flooding that occurred as a result of the intense weather system. The footage was taken at Caboolture in Northern Brisbane.

Tropical Cyclone Formation

On the 22nd March, a weak but outlined area of low pressure formed over the Coral Sea, near the Louisiade Archipelago of Papua New Guinea. On the following day, the BoM rated the system as a tropical low. The system strengthened into a Category 1 tropical cyclone on the Australian tropical cyclone intensity scale at 00:00 UTC on 25 March and was consequently named Debbie.

Finding a course to the southwest, the system strengthened into a Category 2 cyclone by 12:00 UTC on 25 March and continued this strength till the early morning of 27 March (local time) due to less advantageous conditions for intensification.

As favourable climatic conditions returned, Debbie experienced a period of accelerated intensification, growing to a Category 4 severe tropical cyclone in 12 hours. The system moved nearer to the coast through the morning of 28 March, and throughout this time a wind gust of 263 km/h (163 mph) was reported on Hamilton Island.

Cyclone debbie track map
Tropical cyclone debbie track map

Debbie Strikes The Coast

Debbie made landfall on the Queensland coast near Airlie Beach at 02:40 UTC on 28 March 2017 as a potent Category 4 system. At the equivalent time, the cyclone’s then slow speed reduced to 7 km/h (4 mph), causing nearby cities to be subjected to notably strong winds for many hours.

The system waned steadily as it pushed inland, dropping to Category 3 by 06:00 UTC while positioned near Proserpine, Category 2 while near Collinsville a few hours thereafter, and Category 1 by 16:00 UTC. The system was demoted to a tropical low at about 17:00 UTC and began to accelerate while performing a gradual transition to a southeasterly course. Ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie crossed into the Pacific Ocean on the evening of Thursday 30 March (local time).

Cyclone debbie flooding
Flooding from cyclone debbie

Tropical Cyclone Debbie Impacts

Ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie produced widespread damage, primarily due to extremely high rainfall totals, as it trailed down the Queensland coast. In the Mackay district, the system produced 635 mm (25 in) of rainfall to Mt Jukes in 24 hours, and 986 mm (39 in) to Clarke Range in 48 hours.

The torrential rain in the district prompted the overflowing of the Pioneer River and the consequent need for nearly 100 people to be saved from floodwaters in western Mackay. South of Mackay, the Plane Creek Sugar Mill in Sarina registered a minimum of 1,300 mm (51 in) of rainfall.

As the low-pressure system proceeded to move down the coast, the Fitzroy River region underwent 48-hour rainfall totals surpassing 1,000 mm (39 in) in many places. The river later climaxed at 8.8 m (29 ft), flooding hundreds of properties and homes in the Rockhampton area.

Ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie crossed into the South East Queensland region on the afternoon of 30 March and produced widespread rainfall of 150 mm (6 in) and wind gusts of up to 131 km/h (81 mph). These rainfall results were followed by significant falls surpassing 200 mm (8 in) south of Brisbane, in the Gold Coast Hinterland and Scenic Rim.

Of particular note, Springbrook sustained nearly 900 mm (35 in) of rain, including 602 mm (24 in) in 24 hours. Severe flooding also happened in the Logan, Albert and Tweed Rivers, submerging Logan and portions of northern New South Wales, such as Murwillumbah and Lismore.

Shute harbour whitsundays tropical cyclone damage
Shute harbour whitsundays. Tropical cyclone damage

As a consequence of the deluge in South East Queensland, larger than half of the region’s dams were left beyond capacity. Overall, Ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie shattered rainfall records at 62 weather stations in Queensland.

During its lifetime, Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie claimed the lives of 14 individuals in Queensland and New South Wales. The bulk of these fatalities occurred from the remnant low-pressure system rather than the storm itself.

Total economic damages from the cyclone approached A$3.5 billion (USD 2.67 billion). This total surpassed the initial forecast of A$2 billion (US$1.55 billion), which included an approximated $1.5 billion loss in coal exports, $270 million in loss to crops such as sugar cane, a $120–280 million result on tourism in the Whitsunday area, and physical damage to both public and private property.

In its entirety, more than 72,000 calls for assistance were delivered after the cyclone, which is higher than were made after Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi in 2011. As a consequence of the widespread and disastrous impacts of Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie, the Bureau of Meteorology formally withdrew the name Debbie from its naming list.

Further Reading


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