‘Monster killer storm’ devastates Queensland

The most powerful cyclone ever to hit Australia struck Queensland this week. As devastation reigns, are such natural disasters inevitable?

Alan Buckingham planned to shelter in the garage of his apartment block. 'Where do you run to? You can't run inland and outpace it. You've got to sit it out.'

When a cyclone strikes there's little help to be found as residents of Queensland, Australia have discovered this week. Cyclone Yasi has ripped up trees, piled up boats in marinas, snapped power lines, ruined crops and destroyed homes.

Yasi is a Category 5 cyclone, a grading reserved for wind speeds of over 150mph. Believed to be the most powerful ever to hit Australia, gusts of 186mph were recorded by an offshore weather station before it was demolished by this terrible force of nature.

Meteorologists say that, in size and strength, it far surpasses Cyclone Tracy which flattened the town of Darwin in 1974, killing 71 people. Satellite pictures reveal that Yasi is twice the size of Italy and twice the size of Cyclone Larry, which left a repair bill of $1.5 billion for the state in 2006.

'The cyclone is like nothing else we've dealt with as a nation,' says Anne Bligh, state Premier of Queensland, which is still recovering from last month's floods.

Thousands remain in overnight shelters, including Barbara Kendall. 'It's a terrifying sound,' she says.

'It's really hard to describe. All I could hear was the screeching of the wind. We haven't slept for about a week.'

A cyclone – called a 'hurricane' in the USA – is a severe spinning storm, an inward spiralling wind that occurs over the ocean near the tropics. The sun warms the sea, the sea warms the air and the air rises creating a vacuum that sucks in surrounding wind.

As one meteorologist said, 'Imagine a tall chimney where all the energy comes into the base and gets sucked up to the top.'

The center of the storm is known as 'The eye'. Here it can be strangely quiet, while around you, savage winds wreak havoc.

Blown apart
'This is a cyclone of savagery and intensity,' said Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Remarkably, there are no deaths reported as yet. But can anything be done to limit the destructive power of cyclones?

It's impossible to predict their path more than a few hours ahead; they can go straight or perform a sudden U-turn. And engineers believe Yasi could even blow cyclone-proof houses apart.

But in the long-term, global warming may increase the number of cyclones, as climate change could be bringing warmer seas. The current sea temperature is the warmest since records began in the 1900s.

You Decide

  1. 'In the end, nature will always defeat technology'. Discuss.
  2. 'Climate change is the greatest threat to the human race.' Do you agree?

Activities

  1. In a group, create a drama around people who don't know each other being thrown together in an evacuation shelter for the night. Each will find a character, with a particular story. Then develop a one-act play around these characters and the situation.
  2. You've been given five minutes on your local radio station to talk about cyclones. They've given you the title 'Why cyclones?' Prepare and deliver your talk.

Some People Say...

“Extreme weather is awesome.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What does the word 'cyclone' mean?
Literally, it means 'moving in a circle or whirling around.'
And who gives cyclones their names?
They're chosen by the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva. They decide the names many years in advance, apparently, and never use the same one twice.
Is Australia the worst place for cyclones?
No, it's always vulnerable to them but the Philippines, the Gulf of Mexico, Florida and New Orleans are subject to more.A Yes, though in an evacuation center in Cairns, as the winds battered the town, Akiko Pruss gave birth to a little girl, helped by a British midwife. Amid the endings, a tiny beginning. And she says she won't be calling her child 'Yasi'.

Subjects

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