TROPICAL CYCLONE STEVE (14P) PART #1 - DIRECT HIT ON CAIRNS - REPORT

25th to 28th February 2000

By Carl Smith


carls@ace-net.com.au


Note: see TC STEVE (14P) PART #2 - GULF OF CARPENTARIA - REPORT for the second incarnation and TC STEVE PART #3 - TOP END and WESTERN AUSTRALIA - REPORT of this rather unusual cyclone.

REPORT

On the 25th of February 2000 at 1800 UTC, a developing tropical low with a central pressure (CP) of 1000 hPa (hectopascals = millibars) was centred near 16.5 south (S) 150.3 east (E). Satellite wind data indicated extensive areas of west (W) to northwesterly (NW) winds averaging between 30 and 40 knots (KT), north (N) and northeast (NE) of the centre.

TROPICAL CYCLONE ADVICE NUMBER 1 (TCA#1) was issued by the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), Brisbane at 1100 am EST (260100 UTC) on Saturday the 26th, saying a cyclone watch has been declared for coastal and island communities between Cooktown and Cardwell. At 11am (260100 UTC) a tropical low with CP 1000 hPa was centred near latitude 16.5 S longitude 149.0 E, which is 370 km (200 nm) E of Port Douglas.

Advices continued being issued as the low deepened and moved slowly towards the coast.

The cyclone watch was upgraded in TCA#4 issued at 5am EST on Sunday the 27th (261900 UTC) saying a Cyclone Warning is now current for coastal and island communities between Cooktown and Cardwell. At 4 am (261800 UTC) a 996 hPa tropical low was centred about 210 km (115 nm) E of Port Douglas and was moving towards the coast at about 12 km/hr (7 knots). The low is expected to develop into a Category 1 Tropical Cyclone during the day with gales developing along the coast between Cooktown and Cardwell this afternoon. Heavy to flood rains between Cairns and Townsville tonight and continuing through Monday. Flood warnings are already current for this area.

At 262000 UTC in a Shipping warning, it was named Tropical cyclone Steve, 994 hPa, near 16.5 S 147.4 E, almost stationary though expected to resume westward movement at 7 KT (knots). This was soon followed at 7am EST on the 27th (262100 UTC), TCA#5 was issued, saying Tropical Cyclone STEVE, Category 1, 994 hPa, with wind gusts to 100 kilometres per hour (hm/hr) (55 KT) near the centre, and was almost stationary about 210 km (115 nm) E of Port Douglas and continuing to slowly intensify.

The first JTWC warning for TC 14P was issued at 262100Z when it was near 16.6S 147.0E, saying the warning intensity was based on synoptic observations of 32 KT (10 min av.) and satellite current intensity estimates of 30 KT, with infrared imagery indicating continued organisation of of the system during the past 18 hours with convection recently building over the Low Level Circulation Center (LLCC). Surface pressures were continuing to fall below 1000 mb and sustained surface winds close to the LLCC remained near 30 KT (10 min av.), with animated water vapour imagery revealing good outflow aloft, especially to the north (N), and weak vertical wind shear across the region. TC 14P was forecast to continue tracking towards the W within the steering flow of the subtropical ridge to the S.

Over the next few hours, the CP dropped significantly, as illustrated by BoM TCA#7 issued at 11am EST (270100 UTC) saying the CP had fallen to 988 hPa (MB), and it was located near 16.5 S 146.8 E, about 140 km (75 NM) east-southeast (ESE) of Port Douglas and 120 km (65 NM) ENE of Cairns, moving W at about 18 km/hr (10 KT), with maximum wind gusts of 120 km/hr (65 KT) near the centre, and slowly increasing.

TC Steve was upgraded to Category 2 in TCA#8 issued at Noon on the the 27th (270200 UTC) saying CP was 985 hPa and it was located at 16.5 S 146.6 E, about 125 KM (65 NM) ESE of Port Douglas and 100 km (55 NM) ENE of Cairns moving west at about 18 km/hr (10 KT) with maximum wind gusts of 130 km/hr (70 KT) near the centre, and slowly increasing

It continued intensifying and slowed a little in forward motion as illustrated by TCA#10 isued at 3 pm EST (270500 UTC) saying Tropical Cyclone STEVE, Category 2, 980 h:Pa was about 100 km (55 NM) ESE of Port Douglas and about 80 km (45 NM) ENE of Cairns and moving W towards the coast at about 15 km/hr (8 KT). The cyclone is expected to maintain the westerly movement with gales developing between Cape Flattery and Cardwell this afternoon. Destructive wind gusts to 140 km/hr (75 KT) are expected this evening as the centre nears the coast. As the cyclone approaches the coast, abnormally high tides are expected between Port Douglas and Cairns, with the sealevel close to the highest tide of the year. Large waves are likely along the beachfront. Heavy to flood rains are expected to develop between Cairns and Townsville overnight and continue through Monday.

By 4 pm (270600 UTC) it was about 70 km ENE (40 NM) of Cairns and moving W towards the coast, with gales being experienced on offshore islands and expected develop on the coast between Cape Flattery and Cardwell during the evening.

At 5 pm (270700 UTC) Tropical Cyclone STEVE, Category 2, 975 hPa, was about 55 km (30 NM) ENE of Cairns. The cyclone had intensified a little more and was still moving W towards the coast. Destructive wind gusts had increased to 160 km/h (85 KT) and were expected during the evening near the centre of the cyclone as it crossed the coast.

At 6 pm (270800 UTC) it was about 30 km (16 NM) ENE of Cairns. Gales were being experienced on the coast between Cape Flattery and Cardwell and were expected continue throughout the evening. Interaction with land was causing some weakening, as destructive wind gusts to 150 km/hr (80 KT) were expected near the centre of the cyclone as it crossed the coast near Cairns.

In AJTWC's (JTWC had temporarily relocated to Yokosuka, Japan, for a cyclone conference) second warning issued at 270900 UTC, they gave the 270600 UTC position as near 16.7S 146.3E based on a combination of satellite and radar observations, saying max. sustained winds were 40 KT gusting to 50 KT with radius of 35 KT winds being 45 NM in the E semicircle and 35 NM in the W semicircle over water, and in the remarks they noted that at 270900 UTC it was near 16.7S 145.9E and multi-spectral imagery indicated banded deep convection was isolated on the E side of the system as the W edge was interacting with land (the position and wind strength at 270900 UTC was a little different from the BoM information - see below).

At 7 pm (270900 UTC) Tropical Cyclone STEVE, Category 2, 975 hPa, 16.8 S 145.8 E, was crossing the coast in the Cairns area and continuing to move W. Gales were being experienced on the coast between Port Douglas and Innisfail and were expected to continue for several hours. Destructive wind gusts to 150 km/h (80 KT) had been reported in the Cairns area and were expected to continue for the next few hours. People between Port Douglas and Innisfail were reminded to remain in shelter. People in the Cairns area should be aware that winds will ease as the eye passes over them and destructive winds will resume suddenly from a different direction.

By 8pm (271000 UTC) maximum wind gusts had dropped to 140 km/hr (75 KT) near the centre as the cyclone was now inland just W of Cairns, and by 9pm (271100 UTC) max wind gusts winds had dropped further to 130 km/hr (70 KT) near the centre and CP had risen to 985 hPa.

At 10 pm (271200 UTC) TC STEVE CP 987 hPa was downgraded to Category 1 and was located at 16.7 S 145.1 E which was 70 km (40 NM) W of Cairns moving W at about 30 km/hr (16 KT) and was continuing to weaken. Gales with wind gusts to 110 km/hr (60 KT) were being experienced on the coast and adjacent inland areas between Port Douglas and Cairns and were expected to ease in the next few hours.

The (first) final BoM warning for TC Steve, TCA#19, was issued at 11 pm EST (271300 UTC) on Sunday the 27th of February 2000 saying that Ex-Tropical Cyclone Steve was about 85 km (45 NM) WNW of Cairns and was continuing to move further inland while weakening. Heavy rain and flooding was expected to continue about the north tropical coast and adjacent areas overnight and into Monday. Winds had now decreased below gale force but strong wind gusts could still be expected for a few hours.

AJTWC issued warning number 003 at 272100 UTC saying that at 271800 UTC it was near 16.5S 143.2E with max. sustained winds of 30 KT with gusts to 40 KT, and in the remarks said that at 272100 UTC it was near 16.5S 142.7E inland over Cape York Peninsula continuing to track W.

At 280900 UTC AJTWC issued their (first) final warning saying that at 280600 UTC it was near 18.2S 141.1E moving 240 degrees at 12 KT with max. sustained winds of 25 KT gusting to 35 KT, and in the remarks saying that at 280900 UTC it was near 18.4S 140.5E.

EXTRA INFORMATION:

1. Extract from an email sent by Mathew Saxby, mozzie@canberra.teknet.net.au, an Australian cyclone enthusiast:

Here with latest information re TC Steve.  All information from BoM is official.

COURSE:    The eye passed very close to Green Island, and may have struck there.  Landfall was slightly to the north of Cairns, apparently passing over Kuranda (which, unfortunately, doesn't send in observations), thence westward to the north of Mareeba.  The ex-cyclone is continuing to head westward, which may take it into the Gulf of Carpentaria.  However, BoM inform me that the environment in G of C is not as favourable for development as it is off the east coast.

1)    WIND SPEEDS:    Reports of 170km/h winds are INCORRECT.  It would appear that someone took the maximum gusts recorded and simply doubled them, whereas to convert kt to km/h the factor is 1.853.  Official maximum figures obtained from Sue Oates at BoM Brisbane this morning are:
Green Island:    max. 10-min MSW 62kt, with gusts to 85, at 27/0830Z
Cairns:   max. 10-min MSW 56kt, with gusts to 77, at 27/0851Z
In km/h (10-min), the figures for Green Island are 114 and 157, while for Cairns they are 104 and 143.  These figures agree extremely well with the warnings issued by BoM.  No other eye-passage figures are available.  Sue also confirmed that the gale-radius was very small, only about 30-40km.
Converting to 1-min wind speeds (using 0.88 as the factor) gives Greeen Island an MSW of 70kt or 131km/h, and Cairns 64kt or 118km/h.  This makes Steve a Category-1 hurricane or typhoon by Northern Hemisphere standards, well above the 40kt near-landfall MSW given by JTWC in its second warning.  The contention that midget cyclones are much more intense than they appear is certainly supported by this case.  Yet BoM got it right -- how...?

2)    DAMAGE:    Mainly confined to Cairns.  Some buildings were unroofed, and there were widespread power failures.  In spite of this, many businesses intend to trade as usual today.  A number of trees were uprooted, and branches are down all over the city.  There do not seem to have been any casualties at this stage.  (This information is mostly according to the ABC's website).

3)    FLOODING:  BARRON RIVER:    Generally MAJOR and INCREASING (but see below), especially at Mareeba.  The town is isolated, some homes and a caravan (trailer) park have been evacuated, and the town's water supply has failed.  In addition, the Bruce Highway is closed south of Cairns, and there are unconfirmed reports of washouts on the Gillies Highway which provides access to the Atherton Tablelands from south of Cairns.  The Kuranda Range road (Kennedy Highway) is also closed.  (Again according to ABC's website; flood levels according to BoM's charts)

(remainder of detailed flood info and rainfall figures for many stations snipped)

2. Extract of TROPICAL CYCLONE STEVE BATTERS NORTHERN QUEENSLAND by Ben Quin, bodie@flatrate.net.au, a Brisbane severe weather enthusiast. See full report at: http://www.bsch.simplenet.com/products/reports/2000/february/steve/index.htm

40 000 homes in Cairns lost power (with thousands still without power Tuesday morning), hundreds of homes were damage and roads were blocked.  The Bruce Highway was also cut by flooding.

Rainfall totals were quite large (although totals would have been much higher if the cyclone wasn't moving quite fast).  Some of the highest totals include Kuranda with 291mm, Mt Sophia 269mm and Mareeba with 218mm.

3. Extracts of email from Desley Absolon, mystyle@bigpond.com.au, a Cairns weather enthusiast. The full email can be read here

News from 'Cyclone City'!!

<snip>

6pm: Steve was 55km ENE Cairns moving West @ 18km with a central pressure of 975 - winds to 160km/h - this was getting serious!! ...and (what can I say) downright exciting!!! It was expected to cross the coast sometime between 7 and 8pm somewhere near the northern beaches of Cairns and was still intensifying.......and we still had no wind and just a little rain.....there was the odd gust that you would have ignored at any other time but took a little more notice of under the circumstances..but this was really nerve racking as the damm thing was sitting on our front door and we had no idea what it was up to....except that it was possible that Steve would keep intensifying and there was talk of Cat III !!!!!

Then Steve arrived....nahhhhhh Steve barged in with no warning.............By 6.15 the wind was up around the 40-50 km/hr...we went outside just to see what it felt like as we live in a 200mm masonry block home and these cut the noise heaps..yep..the trees weren't liking it real much but it was okay... Around 6.30pm the power went out....battery powered radio kept us in touch with talk back radio and live crosses to the weather bureau, etc. At 6.35 - the Radio went off the air....very lonely...by 6.45pm we were experiencing wind like I have never seen in my life.....In all the other cyclones that I have experienced the wind grew steadily stronger with heavier gusts, till you got to the eye, and then obviously things were calm, till the wind came back from the other direction.....not with Steve....someone who rang in to talkback - on another station later on in the evening likened the winds to a dentist removing a tooth.......just twisting and raging from all directions at once with tremendous force. By 7pm we had decided it was time to seek shelter in our safe room away from the huge pieces of glass in our windows and doors....just as we were about to move....the wind calmed down.....we went through the eye for about 30 minutes..hard to know..as you don't think about your watch too much!! - but the wind didn't die down completely like it did with the eye of Justin..in that instance - the sun came out...blue sky,etc...and then back it came - obviously that was a bit easier in day light too...with Steve it was just a decline of the horrible strong stuff...then we got the rear end of the cyclone...not as much strong stuff in our area but some parts of Cairns - Caravonica, Redlynch, Yorkeys Knob..experienced as much after the eye as before. We had torrential rain with the tail ...but not as much as predicted for us..we recorded 245mm at our place..but not really acurate as the gauge sort of kinder had it's post knocked about...up until 7.00am Monday morning. After that things just sort of calmed down and we finally went to sleep at around 11pm. Green Island recorded wind gusts to 170 km/h and the bureau has now admitted that Cyclone Steve crossed as an unofficial Cat III based on that reading...so even though they suggested just prior to the crossing that it had lessened in strength to around 150km...Steve intensified once more. Officially Steve crossed the coast at Machans Beach and headed on up to Mareeba and across the Cape to the Gulf..and we all know what he is up to right now....

No power until late Monday afternoon...some areas were without power until today (Friday). Not a real lot of structural damage - the pub at Trinity Beach on the hill lost it's roof, the Yacht Club on the Inlet lost it's roof too....generally a lot of damage to houses through trees falling on them...Hu-mungus amounts of damage to vegetation. Mareeba copped huge amounts of rain with major damage done to their rail lines, when the rail bridge was washed away and the line washed 50metres down stream to wrap around the road bridge - it is now closed until engineers can check it out!!!

<snip>

The Kuranda Range road is open to only vehicles under 5 tonne and this is being heavily policed as one lane of the road has completely gone at one point...it has just disappeared over the side.....I have never seen such damage on such a wide scale..guess the rain forest will recover but you can really see where Steve moved inland.

Lots of really large trees have been uprooted around town - if any of you have been to Cairns - the really giant fig tree on the esplanade opposite McDonalds - she's gone Luig'......the whole root system is out of the ground ..tourists were having their photos taken - little Japanese ladies were shorter than the root bowl!!!

We have recorded the wettest February on record for Cairns and people are saying that is the reason for the damage - this however does not account for the amount of trees that have been sheared off 5 - 10 metres above the ground!!! Official rainfall figures for Manunda - a suburb close to us - 1462.7mm for February....Bartlefrere: 3376mm for the month - 10 foot of rain!!!!!!!!!! Where's the ark!!!!!!

<snip>

NOTES:

Note 1: Tropical Cyclone Advices, Updates, and Shipping Warnings used as sources for meteorological information in this report were issued by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) Brisbane Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre and are Copyright Commonwealth of Australia 2000, Bureau of Meteorology - http://www.bom.gov.au. BoM information is used unless otherwise noted.

Note 2: BoM Brisbane issues warnings to the Australian public using kilometers for distances, kilometers per hour for maximum gust wind speeds, hPa for central pressure, and times are EST, which is Australian Eastern Standard Time = UTC + 10 hours. I have converted all these and added in them brackets, so changing to nautical miles (nearest 5 NM), knots (nearest 5 KT), hPa = MB, and times are also given in UTC.

Note 3: Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC), Pearl Harbour, and Alternative Joint Typhoon Warning Center (AJTWC), Yokosuka, Japan, (JTWC had temporarily relocated to Yokosuka, Japan, for a cyclone conference) tropical cyclone warnings were also used for extra meteorological information where indicated, and that material is copyright JTWC - http://www.npmoc.navy.mil/jtwc.htm.

END REPORT


Maintained by Carl Smith.
carls@ace-net.com.au

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