Atmosphere And Weather

Cyclone Tracy



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It was a Christmas Eve like any other in Darwin, 1974. Perhaps there was a tinge of apprehension in the air because the small Australian city had been narrowly missed by a cyclone a few weeks earlier and another one had recently formed (1). While people had prepared for the threat, most were going about their lives as usual. They assumed that Cyclone Tracy would be as harmless as the previous storm (2).

That morning, it became painfully obvious that most people had been wrong. Cyclone Tracy was heading straight for Darwin, toward a populace that was ill-prepared for a tropical storm (3). By late afternoon, the clouds were low and heavy, and the rain and wind had begun (4). Due to the cyclone's slow speed, it buffeted the city with extreme winds for five straight hours (5). Its gales extended 40 kilometres from its centre (6). The storm is described as having sounded like a jet plane or a train (7).

Larrakia Aboriginal people believe that Cyclone Tracy was provoked by human behaviour. The actions of white settlers caused the wrath of Old Man Rock, or Nungalinya (8). However, in meteorological terms, the storm was caused by an intense low pressure system forming over the ocean with sustained winds exceeding gale force surrounding its centre (9).

Darwin after the storm was a wasteland. 90 percent of the city's buildings had been destroyed (10). The total damage caused was up to $800 million (1974 dollars) (11). Thousands of people had to be evacuated by air, while others drove out themselves (12). In the end, the death toll was low considering the amount of devastation that the storm caused. The cyclone killed 49 people on land and 16 at sea, as well as causing 145 serious injuries and over 500 minor ones (13).

Relief efforts were fast and effective. One radio raised $72 000 for aid within 12 hours (14). The total relief money raised from different sources was about $200 000 (15). Five tonnes of clothing, tents, canvas, and food were also donated by the end of Christmas Day (16).

Though the storm was devastating to Darwin, it was not the city's first tragedy. In the past hundred years, Darwin had been subject to two other cyclones as well as two WWII air bombings (17). After this disaster, as with those in the past, Darwin emerged rejuvenated from its ashes. It was rebuilt by many of the original inhabitants, as well as new migrants (18). It is lucky that Darwin has such a strong survival instinct, because it is almost certain that another destructive cyclone will hit the city in the future (19).

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