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Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Cat 5 Cyclone - To Be or Not To Be?

Strong winds began blowing yesterday on Point Danger, the headland that is shared by two Australian States - New South Wales and Queensland. Would it be followed by a cyclone as strong as Katrina? We had feared for days that it could be, even though this would have been a very rare event indeed.

These girls had big trouble keeping hold of their belongings as they stood on the viewing platform above the Point Danger Marine Rescue Station. It was very difficult for me to hold my camera still.

The Bureau of Meteorology put out a warning for damaging winds, abnormally high tides and dangerous surf on the exposed coast. Seas further out could be 'phenomenal'.

For the past few days we've been nervously watching a cyclone the intensity of Katrina wending its way down the Queensland coast in our direction. It is true that such storms generally diminish as they come south. This one however, seemed to be maintaining a deal of its strength for a lot longer than usual.

News services have been tracking Severe Tropical Cyclone Hamish as he played with us, lurking just off the coast. He moved relentlessly southward for a thousand kilometres , threatening to cross to the land, bringing destruction with him, even though he was still offshore.

Hamish strengthened to Category 5, softened to Category 4 and then strengthened again to 5. Right now its still 300 km away and down to Category 3.

We watched reports as towns battened down, thousands were evacuated from danger areas, and gale force winds wreaked their havoc. Idyllic tropical islands just off the coast have been badly damaged.

I bought a new torch and some masking tape for my windows. Just in case, mind you.

Tropical cyclones don't often get as far south as the North Coast of New South Wales, but with the weather and climate change being what they are, you can't be sure. Normally we'd shrug our shoulders and get on with life, knowing that most such storms dissipated before they became our direct concern.

However our weather has been erratic lately, to say the least, producing such record catastrophes as the Victorian bushfires. Hundreds of kilometres of land in the northern Gulf country have been under water for two months now, with farmers isolated and dependent on fodder drops.

There was even an almost unheard-of earthquake this week, not far from Melbourne. I like to look on the bright side, but ...

So when the winds strengthened and waters churned into white horses yesterday, we couldn't help wondering.

I took myself off to Point Danger. I could see that Duranbah, the beautiful beach below me, had already lost much of its sand from an abnormally high tide, and the waves were angry. Clouds were swirling.

To the north, on the Queensland side of the border, I could see some of the crowds watching surfboard riders valiantly competing in a carnival at Snapper Rocks, regarded as one of the more sheltered surf breaks.

Everyone knew that the competition was likely to be cancelled at any time soon.

This afternoon the Bureau updated its gale warning south to Point Danger, saying south-easterly winds to 34/45 knots were expected to whip up seas and swell to three and five metres. Our direction.

It also said that Severe Tropical Cyclone Hamish was expected to slow down and gradually weaken.

We'll see.

9am AEDT 13th March 2009

It seems that the extent of the oil spill had been underestimated by the captain of the ship responsible for the event.

More than 60km of the world famous Queensland tourist coast have been affected by thick oil washed up on previously pristine beaches. The area has been declared a disaster zone as cleanup teams moved in yesterday as the extent of the damage became obvious. Workers are looking for affected wildlife.

So far the spill has affected the beautiful Moreton Bay and its islands near Brisband and, further north, Bribie Island and parts of the Sunshine Coast.

Big seas, the legacy of ex-Tropical Cyuclone Hamish are hampering efforts and spreading the oil.

8am 12th March 2009
Well, it seems as though we have the last laugh. Hamish became Ex-Tropical Cyclone Hamish late last night. We're left with the seas he whipped up, together with a high pressure system that came from the south to join him. I'll wander down to the shore today to survey the scene and take a picture or two.

This shot of Snapper Rocks was taken from the same spot as the pic above, but this morning after Hamish and the high pressure system had done its work. You can see there are still surfers out there! The sea has taken over the vantage point of yesterday's watchers. (Sadly my camera is acting up, with the shutter stuck on this one.)

The swell was up today, certainly.

And this was the bar of the Tweed River nearby. Crossing anybody?

3pm AEDT 12th March 2009

Bad news. It is now becoming clear that a 20 tonne oil spill from cargo ship just off Brisbane yesterday has created damage to beaches at the near-pristine Moretan Island, and on the mainland a little further north. A reporter from the Australian Broadcasting Commission says there is oil on the sand 'as far as he could see' on Moreton Island (see below). Volunteers are looking for affected wildlife.

ABC TV photo

The spill occurred when the ship's cargo of 31 containers of ammonium nitrate spilled overboard in rough seas caused by Tropical Cyclone Hamish. One container pierced the ship's fuel tanks on the way into the sea. There is no sign of the containers or the chemical, which is presumed sunk.

Pardon me if I ask: What Next?

Are there cyclones where you live? I've never been in one, and I don't think I want to be.


  1. Keeping my fingers crossed for you, June!

    I grew up in New Orleans, was in the Ninth Ward when Hurrican Betsy hit in 1969. My sister was in Katrina. We didn't hear from her for three days. It took that long for them to work their way through downed trees and other debris to get to a phone that worked. We were afraid she had perished.

    Be safe, friend!

  2. It is a bit frightening! I do love your post and the photographs. You do a great jog with that June

  3. Hi CROW
    I really doubt that he'll visit - but you do wonder. People up north have been much less lucky ...
    What a family tragedy you had in Katrina. Terrible. And you know cyclones personally as well ...
    Our Hamish has played with us and created a lot of inconvenience, rather than destruction.
    It feels like a calm before the storm right now - but it's very likely that Hamish is diminishing.

  4. G'day LINDA
    Pleased you liked the pix.

  5. I sure hope you don't get it June. I have never been in one and don't want to be in one.
    I would think the waiting would drive you crazy, too, and the not knowing one way or another. I went through a flash flood and that was enough for me. I have been afraid of water and what it can do since that time. Thinking of you and Oz. Take care. Judy

  6. I grew up in Texas where cyclones were commonplace events every spring and summer. They are terrifying and they are destructive. You can never be sure exactly where they will touch down; they'll completely destroy one home and totally skip the one next door and move on to others, randomly hitting first one place and then the other. I'll be posting some pictures of one that a friend took several years ago in Texas. Stay safe! I'm holding good thoughts for you.

  7. I saw this on our news. Your country has been through enough lately. Hope it misses any populated areas.
    I have a blogger's award for you on my blog, go and read and pick it up for yourself!!

  8. Hope that everything is OK with you and the rest of Oz.
    I used to live in Kolkata, which is in the Eastern part of India, which coast experiences heavy cyclones and consequent flooding almost every monsoon. About a decade back, there was a supercyclone which hit the east coast of India and it is still discussed as one of the worst natural disasters in the country. Millions were homeless, thousands were killed.

  9. Oh boy! I can't figure out when hurricane season is for you down under. Ours starts in June. You pictures are a good reminder. One of my multiple identities plays a role in the County's EOC (Emergency Operations Center) and we have a drill coming up. Anyhow, I hope you've weathered this one all right.

  10. As if the fire weren't too much! Hope the cyclone doesn't happen. All that scares me so much. We have tornadoes around here, but fortunately I haven't been near one. Let's keep it that way.

    Amazing pictures!

  11. SYLVIA
    You're an old hand, and unlike our particular neck of the woods Texas knows what to do in this type of emergency. Still no fun, but it really helps when you know what you're dealing with I suppose.

    I look forward to your friend's pix.

    I think Hamish is whimpering as he wears out. He's had a long run parallel to the coast and hopefully is exhausted. However, he has called on a friendly storm from the south and together they seem to be having a last bit of fun. Hopefully, as you say, not in populated areas.

    He's not the Category Five he once was that's for sure.

    I remember reading about your supercyclone. Your nation has such a huge population it would be luck indeed to miss out on loss of life.

    Our cyclone season has really only just begun. Our State Emergency Services have already been very busy however, with the floods to the north and, of course, the bushfires down south. Volunteers came from all over the country, and from overseas. They're wonderful organisations. Good on you!

  15. Hello JUDY
    I think the thing that affects people where I live is that we haven't had a cyclone for many years now. We know we can get them but we haven't had any practice dealing with them.

    In some cases we don't know if buildings are properly constructed to withstand them. Add climate change to that, along with the doubts about what will happen next, and it all adds up to some sort of a worry. Cyclones are notoriously unpredictable.

    As I write, Hamish has weakened to a Category 2 and is moving slowly. However, he's combining with a high pressure system from the south to produce yet more high winds right down to us on the North Coast of NSW.

    Warnings for our area include dangerous surf and bar conditions and abnormally high tides, with waves in the surf zone above 5 metres. These are expected to erode beaches.

    So, no other destruction or threat to life it seems.

  16. JOY
    Pleased you liked the pix.
    If you look carefully at the photo of Snapper Rocks you can see on the top left hand corner the cluster of high rises of Surfers Paradise, the Queensland Tourist town.
    Point Danger where the pic was taken is on the divide of border towns Coolangatta and Tweed Heads. That's how close we are to the centre of 'action' and yet our own valley and beaches are so beautiful and relatively concrete-free.

  17. I hope that the cyclone misses you. As a kid I lived in the Philippines and I still remember how terrifying it was to be in the middle of a hurricane.

  18. Hi LADYFI
    What happened in your hurricanes? Flooding, wind, was your house hit at all? I can only imagine what such a storm would be like for a little child.

  19. I was thinking about you when I saw the weather reports. Wow. Talk about getting clobbered! First the fires and now the cyclones! Take care!

    It's now EX-Tropical Cyclone Hamish. He gave up late last night, although we're left with huge seas and battered beaches, together with his mate the low pressure system that's come from the south.
    All's well that ends well really.

  21. Storm energy inspires awe. Fabulous photos. Glad you were not battered by a cat 5. We call them hurricanes here, and I think they spin the opposite way.

  22. So were we TROPIGAL.
    Our name for cookies is biscuit - they're probably not all so very different.


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