Our thoughts are with the people of Queensland as Cyclone Yasi approaches – a monster storm indeed.
Check out its progress at the Bureau page here.
For those still tempted to use the words “unprecedented” or biggest/worst “ever”, nothing helps more than a look at history:
Tropical cyclone Mahina hit on 4 March 1899. It was a Category 5 cyclone, the most powerful of the tropical cyclone severity categories. In addition, Mahina was perhaps one of the most intense cyclones ever observed in the Southern Hemisphere and almost certainly the most intense cyclone ever observed off the East Coast of Australia in living memory. Mahina was named by Government Meteorologist for Queensland Clement Wragge, a pioneer of naming such storms.
Within an hour, the Thursday Island based pearling fleet anchored in the bay or nearby, was either driven onto the shore or onto the Great Barrier Reef or sunk at their anchorages. Four schooners and the manned Channel Rock lightship were lost. A further two schooners were wrecked but later refloated. Of the luggers, 54 were lost and a further 12 were wrecked but refloated. Over 30 survivors of the wrecked vessels were later rescued from the shore however over 307 were killed, mostly immigrant non-European crew members.
A storm surge, variously reported as either 13 metres or 48 feet (14.6 meters) high, swept inland for about 5 kilometers, destroying anything that was left of the Bathurst Bay pearling fleet along with the settlement.
Eyewitness Constable J. M. Kenny reported that a 48 ft (14.6 m) storm surge swept over their camp at Barrow Point atop a 40 ft (12 m) high ridge and reached 3 miles (5 km) inland, the largest storm surge ever recorded. However Nott and Hayne reviewed the evidence for this. They modelled the surge based on the 914 hPa central pressure and found the surge should only have been 2 to 3m height. They also surveyed the area looking for wave cut scarps and deposits characteristic of storm events but found none higher than 5 m. Of the 48 ft surge they suggest the ground level cited may not be correct, or that terrestrial flooding was also involved. (source)