Cairns Cyclone History


Since 1858 there have been 53 Tropical Cyclones pass within 100km of Cairns City. We have chosen 100km as the relevant distance because statistically the cyclone eye would need to be withing 100km to have any effect.

According to the Bureau Of Meteorology, Cairns comes under threat of a Cyclone at least once every 2 years.

What Is A Cyclone?

A tropical cyclone is a system of winds and storms, rotating towards a central point of low barometric pressure. Cyclones are formed over and fed by warm tropical oceans. Cyclones will almost always dissipate when reaching land.

Here is a great video that explains what a cyclone is…

Which Cyclones Hit Cairns?

The first cyclone recorded to hit Cairns was on the 8th March 1878 (Before cyclones were given names). This cyclone flattened everything in Cairns and considering Cairns was only founded in 1876, many believed that Cairns would never be re-built.

The next cyclone to impact Cairns actually destroyed Port Douglas and Mossman ( Just north of Cairns) on March 16, 1911. This one hit Port Douglas so hard that on only 7 of the 57 buildings were left standing. The population went from 325 in 1911 to 162 in 1933.

cairns cyclone history

Cairns Cyclone History Map

The above image shows the track of every cyclone to pass within 100km of Cairns City from 1969- 2018. Her it is in list form.

  • 1975 – Dawn (Cat 2)
  • 1976 – Keith (Cat 1)
  • 1976 – Otto (Cat 1)
  • 1977 – Gwen (Cat 2)
  • 1985 – Vernon (Cat 1)
  • 1985 – Winifred (Cat 2)
  • 1989 – Felicity (Cat 1)
  • 1989 – Ivor (Cat 4)
  • 1990 – Joy (Cat 2)
  • 1996 – Justin (Cat 3)
  • 1998 – Rona (Cat 2)
  • 1999 – Steve (Cat 2)
  • 2000 – Abigail (Cat 1)
  • 2005 – Larry (Cat 4)
  • 2009 – Olga (Cat 1)
  • 2010 – Tasha (Cat 1)
  • 2012 – Oswald (Cat 1)
  • 2012 – Tim (Cat 1)
  • 2013 – Ita (Cat 4)

What Does Cat Mean?

Cat stands for the cyclones highest rated category. Cyclones are rated by wind speed which is described by the list below. This list is the Australian and South Pacific Rating System.

  • Category 1 – 90-125kph ( Beaufort 8 )
  • Category 2 – 125-164kph ( Beaufort 10 )
  • Category 3 – 165-224kph ( Beaufort 12 )
  • Category 4 – 225-279kph ( Beaufort 12 )
  • Category 5 – more than 280kph ( Beaufort 12 )

How Dangerous Are The Categories?

Firstly, for all of them, we are going to assume you are on land. Being on the ocean for even a Cat 1 is a life threatening situation that should be avoided at all costs.

Category 1 Cyclone

This will be mostly tree damage and damage that results from falling trees.

Category 2 Cyclone

Some damage to older houses, significant tree damage and probable power black out.

Category 3 Cyclone

Roof damage to older houses, caravans destroyed, black out very likely and severe damage to trees and gardens.

Category 4 Cyclone

Roof damage to most houses, trees decimated, flying debris damaging cars, black out guaranteed and severe flash flooding.

Category 5 Cyclone

Everything under serious threat of destruction. Power and water will be cut off for weeks. Houses will be flattened. Flooding and storm surging will destroy what the wind doesn’t.

My Cyclone Advice

Listen to the radio and keep your eye on the news. If a cyclone is coming then we will know about it many days in advance. If you are looking at a Cat 4 or 5, then pack up your house and leave. Drive inland to avoid the danger.

Most townships along the east coast of Australia have cyclone shelters for those who cannot leave. I would recommend knowing where your nearest one is.

Here is the link to the Public Storm Shelters in Cairns

If it’s a category 3 or less then you will be fine to stay and ride it out. Make sure you are prepared with enough water and non-perishable food to last at least 2 weeks. Get your clean up gear ready for when it passes, you may not suffer any damage, but your neighbor might.

My Checklist

  • Food
  • Water
  • Full tank of fuel
  • First aid kit
  • Emergency contact numbers written down
  • Beer
  • Battery operated radio
  • Torches and spare batteries
  • Ice in the esky
  • Windows and doors closed
  • All outside furniture moved inside
  • Everything unplugged from wall power sockets
  • Towels and dry clothes in watertight bag
  • Everyone accounted for

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