A monster cyclone, like the one that killed more than 300 people in 1899 and had a record storm surge of 13 metres, could occur in Cairns, James Cook University research has found.
Professor Jon Nott, from JCU’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, will deliver a free public lecture in Cairns on May 30 about his research into Tropical Cyclone Mahina, which destroyed a pearling fleet at Bathurst Bay, north of Cooktown, in March 1899.
“The World Meteorological Organisation recognises Mahina’s 13-metre storm surge as the world record, yet modelling of the event suggests that would be unlikely for a tropical cyclone which reportedly had a central pressure of 914hPa,” he said.
Professor Nott worked with ABC journalist Ian Townsend, who wrote a novel about Mahina called The Devil’s Eye, and former Bureau of Meteorology Cyclone Warning Centre senior meteorologist Jeff Callaghan, to track down first-hand accounts of the storm.
“We did a bit of detective work and found a letter from one of the ship captains who survived and measured the storm as it passed. The letter to his father in Auckland had been published in a New Zealand newspaper and described a much lower central pressure of 880hPa,” he said.
“After researching historical archives we did field surveys and computer modelling which has shown a cyclone with that pressure could generate an inundation of 13 metres.
“This work has confirmed the world record and suggested that Mahina’s central pressure may be the lowest recorded for a Southern Hemisphere tropical cyclone.
“While very rare, a cyclone of similar intensity could happen in Cairns, bringing with it a storm surge which people today would never imagine could happen.
“With our changing climate, the probability of these larger storms is increasing.”
Professor Nott’s presentation – The world record storm surge and the most intense Southern Hemisphere tropical cyclone: Cape York, 1899. Could it occur in Cairns? – is the latest in JCU’s annual series of public lectures in science and engineering.
The lecture will be held in the Crowther Theatre at James Cook University in Smithfield on Thursday, May 30. Refreshments will be served from 5.30pm and the lecture will begin at 6pm.
Issued May 27, 2013
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