Cyclones in the Northern Territory
Territory Cyclones /
tropical cyclones over a 20 year period in the Northern
Territory. Bureau of Meteorology.
In the Northern Territory
cyclones occur most frequently in the Gulf of Carpentaria
near Gove, and in a line moving west from the Darwin area.
On average there are two cyclones per year in the Gulf of
Carpentaria and one per year in the Arafura or Timor
Northern Territory Cyclones
24-25 November 1839
A severe cyclone wrecked the early
British settlement at Port Essington on the Cobourg
Peninsula. Most of the buildings were demolished or badly
damaged. The Royal Navy sloop Pelorus was driven ashore and
half buried in the mud. The barometer fell to 965 hpa as the
cyclone centre arrived and a storm surge to about 3 metres
above the high water mark occurred.
6-7 Jan 1897 - "The Great
Late on 6 January a severe cyclone
struck the township of Palmerston (Darwin) reducing most of
the buildings to ruins. The pearling fleet in the harbour
was decimated and altogether 28 lives were lost. A lowest
pressure of 960 hpa was recorded at Charles Point while 296
mm of rain fell on the town overnight. Destruction of the
forest occurred over a huge area west and south of the
25-26 Feb 1915
On 25 February a severe cyclone
passed west over Croker Island, Cobourg Peninsula, and then
the Tiwi Islands early on the following day. Several fishing
vessels were sunk and at least six people drowned. Severe
damage was caused on the Tiwi Islands with 250 mm of rain in
eight hours recorded at Bathurst Island.
3-11 Mar 1919
A cyclone formed in the Joseph
Bonaparte Gulf near Wyndham where 440 mm of rain fell in 40
hours. The cyclone intensified as it moved northwards
passing just west of Charles Point late on 5 March. Moderate
damage was caused to the Lightkeeper's buildings and also in
Darwin harbour where two vessels were sunk. The full force
of the cyclone was felt at Bathurst Island Mission which was
destroyed by hurricane force winds and a five metre storm
surge. Thousands of trees were uprooted at Cape Don as the
cyclone swung eastwards along the north coast and weakened,
only to reintensify several days later in the Gulf of
29-31 Mar 1923 -"Douglas Mawson
After causing havoc in the Torres
Strait Islands a severe cyclone looped across Cape York
Peninsula into the eastern Gulf of Carpentaria. It was here
that the coastal steamer Douglas Mawson with 20 people on
board disappeared without trace. The cyclone continued
southeast across the gulf and struck the Emerald River
Mission on Groote Eylandt with great fury on Easter Saturday
(31 March). Hurricane force winds accompanied by a 6.7 metre
storm surge lasted throughout the night, completely
destroying the mission house and stripping bare the
surrounding forest. Discovery of wreckage from the ill-fated
Douglas Mawson one year later triggered rumours of survivors
being held captive by Arnhem land Aborigines. These rumours
persisted for many years but were never
8-11 Mar 1937
A severe cyclone moved into Darwin
from the northwest causing severe damage throughout the town
and the death of one resident. Huge seas ran in the harbour
with waves breaking over the cliffs on the foreshore. Winds
gusted to 158 km/h.
4-8 Jan 1940
This cyclone was notable not so
much for its intensity, but for the huge flood that it
produced over the Top End, especially in the Roper Valley.
During the first few days of January a deep monsoon
depression formed over Eastern Arnhem land. Over the next
week the system continued to intensify, transforming its
character into a tropical cyclone as it drifted eastwards
into the Gulf of Carpentaria. The Roper River rose 25
metres, sweeping away the Roper Mission and badly damaging
the police station. Severe flooding occurred over a vast
area of the Top End.
29 Nov-3 Dec 1948
A severe cyclone produced heavy
damage on the Tiwi Islands and moderate damage in Darwin.
The pearling lugger La Grange was wrecked off Melville
Island with the loss of the entire crew of ten. Winds over
the Tiwi Islands were estimated at 160 km/h.
5-6 Mar 1973 - Cyclone
Severe building and tree damage
were caused on Groote Eylandt and at Numbulwar with the
passage of Cyclone Madge. Wind gusts to 180 km/h were
estimated at Angurugu where 421 mm of rain fell in 14 hours.
A jetty was washed away and a barge sunk.
21-25 Dec 1974 - Cyclone
20-23 Mar 1984 - Cyclone
Cyclone Kathy formed in the Coral
Sea and moved westward across Cape York Peninsula, entering
the Gulf of Carpentaria on 20 March. The cyclone intensified
rapidly as it swung southeast towards the Pellew Islands. A
prawn trawling fleet of 20 vessels was caught in the cyclone
eye as it passed through the Pellew Islands during the night
of 22 March. One vessel was sunk and two others stranded on
rocks. One crewman was drowned. Complete devastation of the
forest occurred over most of the island group and several
holiday camps were flattened. At Centre Island weather
station the pressure fell to 940 hpa and wind gusts to 232
km/h were recorded before the recorder mast blew down. A
storm surge of 4.2 metres occurred on Vanderlin Island and
hurled large numbers of green turtles and dugongs onto the
mainland salt flats. Tree damage extended inland through
Borroloola for more than 200 kilometres. Moderate damage was
caused in Borroloola township.
19-25 March 1985 - Cyclone
After forming in the central Gulf
of Carpentaria Cyclone Sandy moved south and then west over
Bing Bong Station and Port Roper. Two fishing trawlers were
beached on North Island, Bing Bong homestead was wrecked,
and extensive damage was caused to vegetation and seagrass
beds along the southwest Gulf coast. Surges up to three
metres were experienced, with turtles and pilot whales being
swept ashore. Centre Island weather station recorded a
minimum pressure of 973 hpa and a maximum wind gust of 220
km/h. (Source: Bureau of Meteorology)
Cyclones Affecting Darwin
Over the years many tropical
cyclones have passed close to Darwin bringing heavy rain and
on occasions strong wind, but little recorded damage. The
following list includes only those cyclones which had a
significant impact on the population centre.
Jan 1882 Strong gales hit Darwin with severe damage
to many buildings.
Jan 1897 Remembered as the Great Hurricane. Violent
winds with torrential rain flattened the township and
decimated the pearling fleet. At least 28 lives were lost
and natural vegetation destroyed over a wide area.
Dec 1915 Severe damage in Darwin harbour with three
vessels sunk and two others badly damaged. Widespread
destruction of trees around Charles Point.
Apr 1917 Moderate damage caused to buildings in
Darwin. Many trees destroyed north of the town. Sampan sunk
near Port Blaze with three lives lost.
Mar 1919 Two sailing vessels sunk in Darwin harbour
along with several smaller boats. Building damage at Charles
Point lighthouse. Hurricane winds and severe storm surge
destroyed the Bathurst Island Mission, where a baby was
Mar 1937 Darwin township was severely damaged by
hurricane force winds. Huge seas ran in the harbour, and
several boats were stranded. Widespread destruction of the
Dec 1948 Severe gales caused moderate damage in
Darwin. Damage was more severe on the Tiwi Islands. A
fishing vessel was wrecked near Melville Island and the crew
of 10 drowned.
Dec 1974 Cyclone Tracy. City of Darwin devastated,
with 65 people killed and majority of 45,000 population left
homeless. At least 90% of homes either demolished or badly
damaged. Natural vegetation around Darwin laid bare.
Mar 1981 Cyclone Max. Gales in Darwin with
considerable garden damage but only superficial building
damage. Cyclone Max is notable for the fact that it was the
first cyclone to pass through Darwin following Cyclone
Tracy, and the response of the local people to the warnings