What You Should Know About Hurricanes in Australia

Dark clouds of a storm in Australia

John Finney Photography/Getty Images

Tropical cyclones, also called typhoons or (when extremely strong) hurricanes in other parts of the world, are wind and rain storms in the southern hemisphere characterized by low atmospheric pressure at the center (the eye of the storm) and by clockwise wind motion. In the northern hemisphere, the winds rotate counterclockwise.

History of Cyclones

In Australia, tropical cyclones are rated according to wind speeds and range from the relatively weak Category 1 to the most destructive Category 5.

Cyclone Tracy is possibly Australia’s most famous and deadly cyclone events. It razed the Northern Territory capital of Darwin to the ground in 1974 and killed 65 people, injuring a further 145 people seriously and more than 500 with varying minor injuries.

Cyclone Tracy was rated a Category 4 cyclone. It caused damage to the value of $800 million.

The most destructive cyclone to hit Australia occurred in 1899 when more than 400 people died as the storm struck Cape Melville. That cyclone, which also destroyed 100 fishing boats anchored in Princess Charlotte Bay, was never categorized and seems to have remained unnamed.

One of the most cyclone-prone areas within Australia is the coastal region of Western Australia. The northwest coast within Western Australia is the most common area for cyclones to occur within the nation due to the temperature shifts that result in warm, moist air. When the combination of strong vertical wind shears, change in wind speed, and low-level moisture occur then a cyclone is born.

When Is Cyclone Season?

Cyclone season within the tropic region of Australia typically ranges from November 1st to April 30th. With an average of 10 cyclones per year developing amongst areas such as Exmouth and Broome in the west, and far north Queensland in the east, cyclone season can be pretty daunting.

Though cyclones may be commonplace in tropical regions of Australia when compared to America the rate is drastically lower. Alongside this, the fact that very few make it to the shoreline or make landfall also puts things into perspective.

Are Hurricanes in Australia Dangerous?

When traveling to the tropical parts of Australia, it is advisable to remember which areas are prone to cyclones, the rate at which they occur in certain states, and what conditions assist in creating an unstable atmosphere.

However, cyclones are not a serious enough problem in Australia for you to consider delaying or changing your travel plans due to their possible appearance.

Cyclones make landfall rarely and when they do, Australian authorities are prepared to deal with such an event. Many major cyclones have hit the west coast and the far north Queensland coast, such as Cyclone Yasi in 2011 and Cyclone Ita in 2014.

Whilst these weather events caused up to multi-billions of dollars worth of damages — and famously, Yasi caused banana prices to temporarily surge up to 10 times their normal price — they caused few serious injuries and no deaths.

Should you ever find yourself near a cyclone, rest assured in knowing that Australia has many safety measures to ensure that people near affected areas will be kept safe.

How They're Categorized

The following hurricane category information is based on the Australian Bureau of Meteorology Data.

  • Category 1 with strongest wind gust measured at less than 125 kilometers per hour. Usually causes minimal house damage but may cause damage to some crops, trees, caravans, and watercraft.
  • Category 2 with strongest wind gust measured at 125-170 km/h. May cause minor house damage but significant damage to signs, trees and caravans, and heavy damage to some crops. There may be a risk of power failure and small craft may break moorings.
  • Category 3 with strongest wind gust measured at 170-225 km/h. May cause roof and structural damage, destroy caravans, cause power failure.
  • Category 4 with strongest wind gust measured at 225-280 km/h. May cause significant roofing loss and structural damage, dangerous airborne debris, widespread power failure.
  • Category 5 with strongest wind gust at more than 280 km/h. Extremely dangerous and causes widespread destruction.
Was this page helpful?