On 20 January 1918, a cyclone with wind gusts estimated at 195 km per hour hit Mackay. At least 30 people were killed in Mackay and Rockhampton.

In Rockhampton 1400 homes were damaged by the subsequent flooding of the Fitzroy River and six people drowned. Most of the deaths were caused by a storm surge that created waves of up to 2.7 m which broke in the centre of the town.

The cyclone generated rainfall of 1141 mm over three days which flooded the Pioneer River. Further south, the Fitzroy River at Rockhampton peaked at 9.3 m where on 23 January six people drowned. The news of the disaster did not reach the outside world for five days as communication links were down, leading to rumours that Mackay had been totally destroyed. The lowest pressure of 932.6 hPa was recorded at 7.30 am 21st by a private observer (T. Croker) about 5 km from Mackay north of the river.

Before the reading the winds were cyclonic south-easterly then there was a sudden lull and the winds turned northerly in a very short space of time the winds reached cyclonic strength. The Post Office barograph fell to 944.8 hPa at 4am 21st but was prevented by the flange from falling below 944.8 hPa.. The wind changed from the southeast to the north around 8am 21st with no abatement and increased in violence.

The Harbour and Rivers Engineer?s to Parliament stated that the cyclone was accompanied by an elevation in sea surface in the form of a wave which at Mackay slowly rose for about an hour reaching a height of 7 foot 9 inches (2.36 metres) above the highest spring tide level. Hardly any building in Mackay escaped damage and a thousand were destroyed. Three steamers were sunk and three were grounded.

The cyclone brought a 3.6 m storm surge into Mackay. An account by a Miss Moreton stated that the tidal water reached her house at 4.45 am and she drifted on floating debris until 8.50 am. One observer saw a wall of water 7.6 m high sweep over the beaches towards the town at 5 am 21 January at the height of the cyclone. In 1987 a survivor recalled seeing waves 2.4 to 2.7 m high breaking in the centre of Mackay. Severe storm surge damage was also experienced at Slade Point, Blacks Beach and Eimeo Beach north of Mackay.

The cyclone was very large in size and destructive winds extended down to Rockhampton with the worst damage occurring after the winds shifted from SE to NE . Several houses were unroofed in North Rockhampton and along Lakes Creek Road. Trees were uprooted including large jacaranda trees. Many houses had verandas blown off and lost portion of their roofs. Two men were drowned at Rockhampton.

At Yeppoon, a man drowned, trees were uprooted, three buildings were badly damaged or unroofed and several houses were lifted off their blocks. At Emu Park many houses were badly damaged and the fishing suffered severely.

At Mt Morgan roofing iron was lifted off buildings and at Clermont thousands of trees were uprooted along all the surrounding roads and buildings lost roofing iron. Widespread flooding occurred in Central Queensland including a record flood at Rockhampton with widespread property damage. In Mackay the death tally was 20 on the 31st January 1918 and it is now though that a total loss of thirty people lost their lives in the cyclone and the subsequent floods in Central Queensland.

Link: More info on the 1918 Mackay cyclone

Cyclone damage to Croker's wharf, Mackay 1918 (QLDPics image)

Retired Senior BOM Forecaster Jeff Callaghan on the 1918 Mackay c…

Rockhampton Regional Council in partnership with the Queensland a…

Mackay Cyclone 1918 - Wind and pressure model

Map of Mackay inundation 1918

1918 Mackay Cyclone - sea level analysis

Mackay tides 21 Jan 1918