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Category Archives: cyclones

THAT BASTARD LARRY – 10 YEARS ON

 

INNISFAIL CYCLONE 9

I’ll be up early this Sunday – not something I usually do – but it’s the 10th anniversary of a life-changing event. So I’ll spend a quiet hour before dawn remembering cyclone Larry.

One of the most powerful cyclones ever to make landfall in the Australian region came ashore in far north Queensland early on Monday 20th March 2006. The real danger zone around the eye was fairly small, and it was moving so fast it didn’t stay anywhere for long. Even so, the eventual damage bill made it our costliest cyclone to that time.

   Listen to the Remembering Larry radio series here

 It was the first severe cyclone to get near a large population centre in Queensland in 20 years. It’s often compared to Tracy, which destroyed Darwin in 1974. They were of similar intensity – both high-end category four systems, though Larry had briefly reached category five intensity while still out over the Coral Sea. But Larry was much less destructive, largely because building standards had improved since the 70s and it moved so much faster than Tracy.

How bad did it get that night? A lot of the data comes from later examination of the damage, but there are some direct observations that still chill me to the core. A wind gust of 225 kilometres per hour was recorded close to Innisfail. At Mt Bellenden Ker, a gust of 294 km/h was detected near the ABC Far North transmitter site. 187 km/h at Ravenshoe. Peak gusts to 240 km/h were common immediately around the eye.

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If you’ve never encountered a severe cyclone, be thankful. It’s a unique kind of sensory overload. The wind sounds like a large fleet of jet aircraft shrieking overhead. You hear debris slamming into the sides of your house. You watch your ceiling vibrate, your window panes flexing. Rainfall so intense it sounds like a thousand snare drums. The barometric pressure falls so low your ears pop and sometimes you feel like you can’t fill your lungs. It takes incredible emotional stamina to endure it, and then it all goes dead quiet as the eye moves overhead. An enervating calm prevails, but only briefly. And then it goes from zero to all hell breaking loose as the second half comes over. And in Queensland, that’s where the worst weather lurks – the south-east quadrant.

I was on air at ABC Far North as Larry came ashore, leading a remarkable team of people in what became a marathon of radio coverage that continued for many months. We were bunkered down that night and our listeners became our eyes and ears – describing the mayhem, sharing their stay safe tips and sending encouragement. They told us of surf in the usually placid Johnstone River, waves on the crater lake 70 kilometres inland at Lake Eacham. They described tall trees bending almost double, cows being blown backwards in paddocks. Horizontal sheets of rain, wheelie bins being blown through the air.

When it stopped blowing, our work began in earnest. We hit the road, moving into the cyclone affected areas in Johnstone Shire, the broader Cassowary Coast area and the Atherton Tablelands. The people of far north Queensland honoured us and helped each other by sharing their stories of that horrible night, the damage, and the many small steps towards recovery. The ABC Far North team worked long and hard, doing what it’s always done – giving voice to the experiences, concerns and expertise of the remarkable and resilient people of far north Queensland. Our coverage kept communities informed, and was closely followed by governments at all levels responding to the disaster.

One of the most disturbing elements in the immediate aftermath was the apparently random nature of the damage to buildings. One house flattened, the one next door untouched. This could be explained by interaction between wind and terrain, or by the age of a structure – but the haphazard spread of damage seemed cruel.

Damage to crops, industry, infrastructure and livelihoods was extensive and expensive. In southern Australia, you probably remember how high banana prices were for months after Larry. But people living in the Larry zone did it tough for most of 2006, and some took even longer to recover financially. Emotional recovery is also a lengthy journey, and even now, there are folks who break out in a cold sweat whenever they hear the cyclone warning siren on the radio. I am one of them.

So – what will I think about early this Sunday morning when I remember Larry, 10 years on?

Top of the list is the remarkable courage and resilience of people who endured Larry and the ensuing months of hardship. It was hard, often exhausting work covering the Larry story, but every day I went home inspired by the way most folk went about getting on with life.

I remember how we seemed to have learned a great deal from the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina in the US in 2005. At so many levels, organisations and people were determined to get it right. By and large, they did.

I remember the longest working day of my career. I clocked on at lunchtime Saturday. I got home on Thursday night.

I remember taking over the office of then Johnstone Shire mayor Neil Clarke, turning it into an ABC studio. We ended up running a studio outpost in Innisfail for several months after Larry.

I will reflect on the often unseen cost of a natural disaster – relationships, appetite, sleep, confidence – so many things we can’t put a price on, but tangible damage nonetheless.

I remember the Bureau of Meteorology crew in Cairns who got Larry right at every step, and the remarkable Craig Burke, who was on duty as Larry came ashore. His was an outstanding act of community service, and first class radio broadcasting too. You have to wonder why the Bureau now seeks to remove staff from so many of its regional centres.

I remember the determined and relentless hard work of my ABC Far North team that night and all through 2006. Your work was in the finest tradition of public broadcasting, and never forget what so many people told us in the aftermath – we saved lives that night, and helped keep people going when the road to recovery seemed an impossibly uphill journey

I remember being scared. Being on air in the dead of night, reading out the latest BoM cyclone warning and coming to the line “cyclone Larry now poses a serious threat to life and property”. Listen back to the recording and you can hear a split second of hesitation, a slight waver in my voice. I was shit scared, but not for me. I was safe in our Cairns studio. I was scared for friends, our listeners, the people directly underneath Larry, who were relying on us to keep them informed on what was indeed a dark and stormy night. All good radio broadcasters are guided by a quiet inner voice, a sort of radio instinct. Mine was telling me, loud and often, “don’t fuck this up”. Somehow, together, we did what the occasion demanded – teamwork and adrenaline combining most effectively.

I remember the Larry jokes. They were pretty awful and usually involved “colourful” language. But that sort of “gallows” humour speaks of the powerful resilience so often seen in disaster zones. On Rankin Street, Innisfail, a bloke approached me, having noticed my ABC shirt. “I’ve got a water feature at my place,” he said. “It used to be my ceiling fan.”

Cyclone anniversaries are really just media-made occasions, a chance to recycle the old footage and revisit a now venerable story. The most telling quote from the recent fifth anniversary of cyclone Yasi was “today? If you hadn’t told me I wouldn’t have thought of it”.

And I wonder if that might be a common answer this Sunday too. Nevertheless, there is much to be said for spending some time remembering the enormity of what confronted us, and the determination of those affected and of those who came to help us. Together, we stared down a mean bastard called Larry. To borrow from William Shakespeare:

“Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Larry’s day.’
Old folk forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But we’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats we did that day”

All across Australia, there are many thousands of people who were “in” Larry somehow.
I’ll be thinking of you. Fondly. You know who you are.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2016 in cyclones, EFFINCUE, far north Queensland

 

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WAS CYCLONE DYLAN NAMED AFTER BOB? TONY HILLIER’S WORLD OF MUSIC

bobFor a couple of days this week it looked as if a tropical depression might come ashore in far north Queensland. It had formed out over the Coral Sea, and we watched closely as it drew closer and got organised. As it turned out, it did become a cyclone – and in accordance with the long-established Bureau of Meteorology convention of choosing names boy-girl-boy-girl in alphabetical order, this one was given the name Dylan. Now was that choice inspired by Dylan Thomas, or Dylan from Beverly Hills 90210. Our music guru Tony Hillier is convinced the cyclone was named for Bob Dylan, giving the weather bureau credit for what he calls an “inspired choice” – inspiring Tony to present Bob Dylan songs with a weather flavour.

LISTEN  

The convention of giving proper names to cyclones was started by a pioneer of meteorology in Australia – Clement Wragge.

PLAY LIST

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan 1963

High Water from Love And Theft 1991

Shelter From The Storm from Blood On The Tracks 1975

Hurricane from Desire 1976

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TONY HILLIER CASTTony Hillier is one of Australia’s leading music journalists and a musician of long standing here in far north Queensland. His informed and insightful coverage of music features in The Weekend Australian and Rhythms magazine http://rhythms.com.au/

Tony Hillier’s World of Music is also available as a podcast. Search for Tony Hillier on your podcast app or in the iTunes store. And you can stay in touch with the FNQ music scene with Tony at http://www.entertainmentcairns.com/hilliers-hotline-archive.php

You can hear Tony on ABC Far North each Friday at 445pm.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2014 in cyclones, EFFINCUE, rd on the road, Tony Hillier's World of Music

 

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GET READY CAIRNS – WET SEASON IS ON THE WAY

monsoon trough

You’re looking at a pretty typical wet season weather chart. That blue line of dots and dashes across the top of Australia represents the monsoon. It’s a line of unstable weather that shifts, with the seasons, north and south of the equator. During the Australian summer, it surges south of the equator, pushing in to northern Australia. Along the monsoon trough, you get areas of low barometric pressure, heavy to phenomenal rainfall, and the perfect breeding conditions for cyclones.

The monsoon can begin to head south anytime from late November, but at present it’s still to the north, where Typhoon Haiyan is roaring through the Philippines. It’s one of the most powerful tropical weather events in a long time, and a very timely reminder to us of the need to prepare for the coming Australian wet season.

get-ready-queensland-logoYesterday in Cairns, ABC Far North was involved in the latest Get Ready Queensland event. Local emergency management, disaster responders, local & state government agencies took part, talking about their roles in an emergency and how each of us can prepare for cyclones and floods. The clear message is if you live in far north Queensland – now is the time to get ready. Early and comprehensive preparation dramatically improves your chances of getting through a weather emergency unscathed and back on your feet in a shorter period of time.

KEY MESSAGES

HOW WET WILL THIS WET BE Richard Wardle is supervising forecaster at the Bureau of Meteorology

WILL THERE BE FLOODING Andrew Preece is senior hydrologist at the Bureau of Meteorology

WHAT IS GET READY QUEENSLAND Cheryl-Lee Fitzgerald at Emergency Management Queensland

SHOULD I GO TO A CYCLONE SHELTER Ian Fell from Cairns Regional Council says shelters should be a last resort

WILL THE ROADS BE OPEN Jim Harding-Smith is with the Department of Main Roads

WHAT ABOUT DOCTORS & HOSPITALS Brad McCulloch is with the Cairns & Hinterland Hospital and Health Service

DISASTER PREPARATION LINKS

Atherton Tablelands residents go here

If you live in the Cairns Regional Council area go here

For Cassowary Coast residents, this is the link for you

And if you live in Cook Shire go here

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GOT A CYCLONE STORY, PHOTO OR MEMORABILIA? THE MUSEUM OF TROPICAL QUEENSLAND WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU

CYCLONE LARRY - BEST VIEWED FROM FAR AWAY

CYCLONE LARRY – BEST VIEWED FROM FAR AWAY

I’m writing this on a wet and very windy Cairns evening. We’ve had 40 knot winds along our coast today, with a gale warning issued by the Bureau of Meteorology. It’s being driven by an unusual combination of weather – a wet north-westerly air flow higher up in the atmosphere. and a wet south-easterly at lower altitudes. And it’s very rare to have gale force winds in far north Queensland when there’s no cyclone in the neighbourhood.

Ooops. Sorry for using the “C” word! We’ve only had to use it once this wet season – when cyclone Oswald came out of the Gulf of Carpentaria in January and hit western Cape York Peninsula. Oswald was a “little fella” – a category one that did some damage around FNQ, but did its worst much further south as a rain depression. And Oswald was a traveller. He made it all the way to Sydney.

It’s been a below average wet season in FNQ, and the forecasters reckon we may have seen the last of the monsoon. It seems we’ve made it through the wet season without a major cyclone. If you’ve never been through one, count yourself lucky. Cyclones are about the worst thing nature can throw at you. We usually know they’re coming several days ahead, so there’s a long time in which to prepare and worry. The event itself is terrifying, with real risk to life and property lasting for hours. It’s the worst form of sensory overload, and when it’s over, the ordeal is really just beginning. It’s time to clean up, repair and rebuild, start again. That can take weeks, months, years, and in the early stages, you’ll be without so many of the things we take for granted – power, phone, ATMs, the Internet, shops, water, roads. It’s a challenging time, and poses real risk to your emotional well-being.

Thankfully, these days, there are people and agencies expert in helping us recover from natural disasters. And they tell us one of the best things you can do is to talk to each other – tell those cyclone stories. It might not be easy at first, but it gets easier and it does help make sense of the disaster you’ve just been through. And it helps others who’ve been there too, and can help people prepare for next time, especially people who have yet to experience a cyclone.

And let’s face it – cyclone stories can be amazing tales of the power of nature, of courage and the resilience of the human spirit. The Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville is about to put on an exhibition about cyclones in our part of the world – and they’d like your help.

If you’ve had first-hand experience with cyclones, tornados and other “big blows”, they’d like to hear from you. The exhibition will tell the story of how these fierce weather events have shaped the lives of North Queenslanders. The exhibition will look at cyclones that have affecyed  North Queensland over the past 100 years with a focus on how the community has prepared for, lived through, cleaned up and counted the cost after each  disaster. The Museum is keen to gather stories, photos and memorabilia about north Queensland cyclones since the early 1900s.

LISTEN Click on the red arrow to hear exhibition curator Robert de Jong talk about the exhibition and how you can help make it an authentic telling of an important north Queensland story.

Can you help? If you’d like to contribute to the tropical cyclones exhibition contact Robert de Jong on (61 7) 4726 0652 or by email: robert.dejong@qm.qld.gov.au.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has details of Queensland cyclones back to the late 1800s at http://www.bom.gov.au/cyclone/history/eastern.shtml

And general info about cyclones in Queensland at http://www.bom.gov.au/cyclone/about/eastern.shtml

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There are some amazing cyclone stories in our radio documentary series Remembering Larry. Cyclone Larry hit FNQ in March 2006 – one year later, people took time to reflect on the region’s first severe cyclone in 20 years, and the lessons we learned.

You can listen to the series by clicking on the red arrow for each episode.

REMEMBERING LARRY EPISODE 1: TROUBLE BREWING OUT IN THE CORAL SEA

REMEMBERING LARRY EPISODE 2: WE’VE HAD A BIT OF A BLOW

REMEMBERING LARRY EPISODE 3: WHERE THE HELL DO YOU START

REMEMBERING LARRY EPISODE 4: AND IT WON’T BE LIKE THIS TOMORROW

REMBERING LARRY EPISODE 5: “REMEMBERING LARRY”

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2013 in Cairns Queensland, Cape York Peninsula, Coral Sea, cyclones, EFFINCUE, environment, far north Queensland, tropical weather & climate

 

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THOSE OLD TREES COULD HELP FORECAST FLOODS AND DROUGHTS

Kauri Pines near Lake Barrine on the Atherton Tablelands FNQ

Kauri Pines near Lake Barrine on the Atherton Tablelands FNQ

Some of the trees in far north Queensland are very old, perhaps going back hundreds of years. A James Cook University study getting underway on the Atherton Tablelands hopes those trees can tell us more about the weather over the past 400 years and help forecast future extreme weather events.

The study will use the science of dendrochronology – the analysis of patterns of tree rings, which form in trunks during periods of rapid tree growth. Dendrochronology was developed by astronomer A E Douglass in the first half of the 20th century – he was looking to understand cycles of sunspot activity. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._E._Douglass

It’s long been possible to learn about past climate events from tree rings, but the general view was reliable information couldn’t be drawn from tropical trees because they grow so much faster than trees in more temperate zones.

But James Cook University’s Dr Nathan English says it’s time to reconsider that view. He believes tropical tree rings may help inform our understanding and forecasting of weather in the tropics.

“Now we are having a second look at tropical trees for dendrochronology because we’re finding more and more tree species with good, annual rings, which are formed during wet-dry seasons, and the tropics are an important part of the global climate system,” Dr English said.

Tree rings visible in a very old Kauri pine

Tree rings visible in a very old Kauri pine

AUDIO Click on the red arrow to hear Nathan English explain his study, and how it could help forecast future floods and droughts.

Dr English works at JCU’s Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science – the Atherton Tablelands study is one of many around the world, including Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Indonesia, that are trying to fill the gaps in our knowledge of tropical climate.

“As a bonus, I hope we’ll learn something about the last 400 years or more of drought and flood history in Queensland and that in turn can guide us in the future,”Dr English said.

The information gathered in this study over the next three years could help us make better decisions about natural disaster mitigation efforts, insurance, and how we live and make our livings here in tropical north Queensland.

Drills used for dendochronology studies don't harm the trees

Drills used for dendochronology studies don’t harm the trees

More about Nathan English at http://www.jcu.edu.au/ees/staff/adjunct/JCU_094512.html

And read about JCU’s Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science at https://research.jcu.edu.au/research/tess

A concise explanation & history of dendochronology http://dendrolab.indstate.edu/

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2013 in Cairns Queensland, cyclones, EFFINCUE, environment, far north Queensland, tropical weather & climate

 

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THE WET SEASON IS COMING – AND OUR WILDLIFE CAN’T WAIT!

BARRON FALLS DURING THE WET SEASON

The long hot dry season is coming to an end. The wet season is not far off. The signs are all there. Afternoon storms building up on the Atherton Tablelands and Cape York Peninsula. In Cairns and along the east coast, the south-east trade wind has dropped out, replaced by the much less-refreshing north-easter. Days are becoming stickier. The night-time temperatures seem higher. Sleep comes to a sound-track of calling frogs and rumbling air conditioners.

Somewhere around Xmas. the monsoon will arrive. Heavy rain, the prospect of cyclones and flooding. Summer in the far north is a curious mix of bliss, tedium, and anxiety. The first real rain will have us dancing in the streets, some of us not fully clothed at the time. And the renewal of the FNQ environment is an extraordinary thing to behold.

Mind you, after a while, the thrill does wear off. A soggy, stinky, mouldy ennui prevails, the moist adjectives get a flogging and people begin to scan airline websites for cheap flights to arid destinations.

And there’s the worrying prospect of a cyclone developing in the Gulf or the Coral Sea. They can meander out there for ages, sometimes coming to nought. Other times, they make landfall and cause tremendous damage.

It’s hard to imagine that such a potentially dangerous time of year is, for our wildlife, a time of renewal. But that’s exactly what it is. Food sources become plentiful, water abundant, and the critters flourish. Even now, a few weeks out from the wet, our wildlife has sensed it coming, and is getting excited at the prospect.

Martin Cohen at Lake Eacham FNQ

Martin Cohen at Lake Eacham FNQ

 

 

AUDIO Click on the red arrow to hear ABC Far North Wildlife Correspondent Martin Cohen explain how the approach of the wet season affects FNQ and its amazing creatures.

 
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Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Cairns Queensland, Cape York Peninsula, Coral Sea, cyclones, EFFINCUE, environment, far north Queensland, tropical weather & climate, wildlife and animals

 

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CYCLONE LARRY SIX YEARS ON

JUST LARRIED! NEAR MUNDOO AIRSTRIP INNISFAIL MARCH 2006

THE WEATHER HAS KEPT US ALL ON OUR TOES THE PAST FEW DAYS, WITH THE MONSOON DUMPING HUGE AMOUNTS OF RAIN ON EFFINCUE, AND A TROPICAL LOW IN THE GULF OF CARPENTARIA GENERATING SOME TESTING CONDITIONS.

SO YOU COULD BE FORGIVEN FOR NOT REMEMBERING THAT TODAY, MARCH 20, IS THE SIXTH ANNIVERSARY OF CYCLONE LARRY.

LARRY RACED ACROSS THE CORAL SEA & WAS A CAT 5 JUST BEFORE LANDFALL (BOM)

WE’D KNOWN LARRY WAS COMING FOR THE BEST PART OF A WEEK SO THERE WAS PLENTY OF TIME FOR PREPARATION. BUT THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME IN MANY YEARS THAT A SEVERE CYCLONE THREATENED FNQ’S LARGER POPULATION CENTRES. AND WE’D ALL SEEN THE DISASTROUS RESPONSE TO HURRICANE KATRINA IN THE U.S THE PREVIOUS YEAR.

LARRY WAS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL CYCLONES EVER TO HIT AUSTRALIA. IT MADE LANDFALL NEAR THE JOHNSTONE RIVER MOUTH AND LEFT A TRAIL OF DESTRUCTION ACROSS QUEENSLAND, HITTING FARMERS ESPECIALLY HARD.

SATELLITE IMAGE AS LARRY MAKES LANDFALL (BUREAU OF METEOROLOGY)

ON THE FIRST ANNIVERSARY, ABC FAR NORTH RAN A FIVE PART RADIO DOCUMENTARY CALLED REMEMBERING LARRY. IT TRACES LARRY TO ITS ORIGINS IN THE EASTERN CORAL SEA, CHRONICLES THE DAMAGE IT DID, AND BEARS WITNESS TO THE INSPIRING DETERMINATION OF FNQ FOLK TO REBUILD & RECOVER.

RADIO ACE SUZANNE GIBSON & I MADE THE SERIES & WE’VE HAD MANY REQUESTS TO PUT IT ONLINE. SO HERE IT IS. THE THEME MUSIC IS A SONG CALLED HEY RAIN, WRITTEN BY BILL SCOTT AND PERFORMED BY PENNY DAVIS & ROGER ILOT.

REMEMBERING LARRY EPISODE 1: TROUBLE BREWING OUT IN THE CORAL SEA

REMEMBERING LARRY EPISODE 2: WE’VE HAD A BIT OF A BLOW

REMEMBERING LARRY EPISODE 3: WHERE THE HELL DO YOU START

REMEMBERING LARRY EPISODE 4: AND IT WON’T BE LIKE THIS TOMORROW

REMBERING LARRY EPISODE 5: “REMEMBERING LARRY”

 

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Posted by on March 20, 2012 in Coral Sea, cyclones, EFFINCUE, far north Queensland, tropical weather & climate

 

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