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Exceptional rainfall, major floods hit north Queensland, Australia


A slow-moving monsoon trough dropped exceptionally heavy rain on Queensland's far north, nearly 500 mm (19.6 inches) in 24 hours, causing a rapid rise of crocodile-infested Daintree River to record levels on January 26, 2019. More heavy rainfall is expected in the days ahead.

Parts of Douglas Shire received 400 mm (15.7 inches) and up to 500 mm (19.6 inches) of rain in 24 hours on January 26. In some places, 300 mm (11.8 inches) of rain fell in just 6 hours. In 48 hours to January 27, the area received more than 620 mm (24.4 inches). 

All that rain in such a short period of time caused the Daintree River to rapidly rise, break the major flood stage of 9 m (29.5 feet) around 18:00 LT, January 26 and peak just after 00:00 AEDT on Sunday, January 27 at 12.6 m (41.3 feet), breaking the previous record of 12.4 m (40.6 feet) set in 1901.

People living close to riverbanks received an emergency flood alert in the middle of the night warning them to move to higher ground.

The floods washed out roads, stranding hundreds of people, flooded homes, damaged ferry infrastructure and flushed herds of cattle out to sea. The animals were eventually rescued.

"The Daintree River has exceeded the level that we knew about in 1996, which was 11.8 m (38.7 feet), and it has got up to 12.6 m (41.3 feet)," Douglas Shire Mayor Julia Leu said. "This is a difficult situation … we ask everyone to be patient as Douglas Shire recovers." 

In 24 hours to 09:00 LT, January 27, Cairns Airport recorded 316 mm (12.44 inches) of rain. Police reports mention a number of rescues carried out in the city after drivers ignored all warnings and decided to drive through floodwaters.

"It's a constant worry for us and other emergency services. The people still aren't heeding the message that if it's flooded forget it. It seems to be just ignored. We are having multiple people, driving through flooded waters," Queensland Police Superintendent Geoff Sheldon said.

One person is thought to have died in the swollen Ross River in Townsville.

More rain is expected to hit the region through the rest of the week, especially between Tully and Proserpine. However, it is possible the system may return to the far north later in the week. 

The Bureau of Meteorology says the region is expected to receive 1 500 mm (59 inches) in total over a 10-day period.

GFS – Total rainfall accumulation January 28 – February 6, 2019. Model run 12:00 UTC, January 28. Credit: Google, TropicalTidbits, TW

15 cm (6 inches) of water is enough to reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing loss of control and potential stalling. 30 cm (12 inches) will float many vehicles while 60 cm (2 feet) of rushing water will carry away most vehicles, including SUVs and pickups.

Flood summary

Issued at 09:52 EST on Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The following Watches/Warnings are current:

  • Major Flood Warning for the Haughton River Catchment
  • Moderate Flood Warning for the lower Herbert River
  • Moderate Flood Warning for the Murray River and Minor Flood Warning for the Tully River
  • Initial Minor Flood Warning for the Bohle River
  • Flood Watch for catchments south of Halifax to Proserpine

Featured image credit: Queensland Police Service


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