Cyclone Debbie is bearing down on the north Queensland coast as I type. It’s a funny feeling. We lived in one of the most cyclone prone areas of the world (Pilbara region in WA) for many years, but have now lived in NSW for the last fifteen years.
It’s sort of weird, because now our daughter and her partner are living in Townsville, which is currently on a Cyclone Warning.
I was reflecting on the differences in technology, from the mid eighties when I first went north, and those available to cyclone watchers now.
Then, we’d wait for updates on the radio or television, and get out our trusty cyclone tracking chart (from the back of the phonebook) and plot the cyclone with a pencil. By the nineties, when my husband and I had joined the SES, we’d get information faxed directly from the Bureau of Meteorology, but we’d still have to plot it on the map. (We had better maps at the unit.)
A really clever friend built a program we could enter plotting details into so it could be tracked on a (pre-internet) computer. Then the internet arrived. Information was amazingly fast. We could watch the development online. Predicting cyclone tracks was still rudimentary, but the modelling became better and better, and we’re now a long way from those paper maps of the eighties.
Now, we can look up the latest information on the internet, and watch the cyclone develop almost moment by moment. There are satellite pictures, predicted tracks, access to all kinds of different models, and facebook pages, groups, and phone alerts via text message and internet.
Still, the danger that a cyclone poses hasn’t changed. Storm surge, high velocity wind gusts, flooding, and flying debris are just as dangerous as they have always been. I found a fascinating storm surge modelling video on Youtube, if you’d like to have a look at how impossible it is to combat storm surge. It would actually be like trying to hold back the tide.
Cyclones have always fascinated me. It’s probably why I decided to make Frontier a cyclone prone planet, when I wrote the Frontier Trilogy. One of the things often told to writers, is to ‘write what you know.’ So I did. We’d had a fair amount of practical experience as the result of living in the Pilbara for sixteen years.
Describing a cyclone and its aftermath was something that came quite naturally. When I think about cyclones, it’s like a movie plays inside my head. Rain, flying horizontally. Native trees that bend horizontally, then bounce back upright, while their non-native counterparts bend and then uproot themselves. The sounds of flying debris slamming into the house, and the freight train roar of the gusts as the windows bend under the force of the winds.
They go on for hours. The gusts rise and fall, and the rain comes in waves. Power often vanishes, and sometimes the damage is devastating. Much of the damage comes from flying debris. In the aftermath, sometimes water supplies are limited, and the full scale of the destruction becomes slowly known.
Industry, agriculture, and infrastructure is often damaged. Emergency services work flat out to assist. Certainly where we used to live, there was a well practiced response.
We used to practice simulated cyclones at our SES unit. We even went as far as engaging family and friends to fax and phone emergency calls in to our operators. We’d play noisy storm track and cut the power to the unit, so that the back up generator and phone system had to be switched on. We did everything in our power to try and mimic some of the intensity experienced during a cyclone. Still, it wasn’t actually the same, but it was the best we could do at the time, and it was very good practice.
Over the next few days, we’ll watch the cyclone with interest, keep in touch with our daughter, and keep Queensland in our thoughts. Hopefully everyone will stay safe, and any damage will be minimal.