Update: Cyclone Debbie

27 Mar 2017

Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie is forecast to continue strengthening as it tracks west-southwestward through the Coral Sea towards the Queensland coast. The system is expected to be a powerful Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 86-107 kts (158-198 kph, 99-123 mph) when it makes landfall near Bowen in the Whitsunday Region on the morning of March 28. Winds gusting to 124 kts (230 kph, 143 mph) are possible between Townsville and Proserpine when the center of circulation crosses the coast. Gale-force winds were already occurring in the Whitsunday Islands as of the morning of March 27, and winds may strengthen to near-hurricane force in exposed areas between Ayr and Mackay by early evening. Outer bands started bringing heavy rain to coastal areas in the morning. The cyclone will be one of the largest to strike the region in recent memory; it may be comparable to Cyclone Althea, which caused extensive damage in Townsville in December 1971.

Major storm surge flooding is expected. The arrival of the cyclone will roughly coincide with high tide in a number of areas, and a surge of up to 4 meters (13 feet) is possible. Evacuations have been ordered in low-lying areas of Townsville, the Shire of Burdekin. and the Whitsunday Region. Areas around Bowen are at high risk. Significant surge is also possible in coastal areas between Proserpine and Mackay. Destructive winds will likely cause extensive property damage and lengthy power outages in areas close to where the system makes landfall. Power providers will cut electricity to many affected communities as a precaution by the evening of March 27. Torrential rainfall will probably result in widespread flash and areal flooding throughout the region. More than 300mm (12 inches) of rainfall is likely in coastal areas from Townsville to Mackay. Very heavy rainfall will probably extend inland to the Bowen Basin and central Queensland.

Flooding could damage road and rail infrastructure, potentially disrupting logistics between the coast and coal mines in the northern part of the Bowen Basin. The ports of Mackay and Townsville and coal terminals at Abbot Point, Hay Point, and Dalrymple Bay have closed, and infrastructure damage and logistics disruptions could affect exports for several days. Landslides may occur in hill areas, and flooding may make portions of the Bruce Highway (A1) impassable. The cyclone may cause extensive damage in the agriculture sector; mills and cane fields around Ayr and Proserpine are at high risk.

Expect flight cancellations at airports serving Townsville (TSV), Proserpine (PPP), Hamilton Island (HTI), and Mackay (MKY) into March 29. Flight operations were suspended at these airports on March 26. Most flights should operate normally at Cairns Airport (CNS), except those to destinations in the path of the cyclone.

Dozens of Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) team members have already mobilized and deployed to Cairns in advance of the storm, The team includes swift water response, urban search and rescue, and damage assessment specialists. About 1,000 emergency services personnel have also flown into the region from other parts of the country, and the Australian Defence Force is on standby to assist relief efforts. Workers have also been sandbagging the Port of Townsville to try to protect the facility, as it will be a key distribution point for essential items if highways become impassable.

Further information

Please contact the Campus Travel team by phone on (07) 3393 8855 or email uq@campustravel.com.au for further information or if you are likely to be affected by Cyclone Debbie.