On 24 December 1971, Tropical Cyclone Althea swept across Townsville resulting in three deaths. Many houses were damaged or destroyed by the winds. Althea crossed the coast with a 106 knot gust being reported at the Townsville Meteorological Office. The waves from Althea caused massive coastal erosion in the Townsville area.

On Magnetic Island 90 per cent of the houses were damaged or destroyed. Two tornadoes damaged trees and houses at Bowen. There was a major flood in Burdekin, resulting in a 2.9m storm surge in the Townsville Harbour, and a 3.66m storm surge north at Toolakea. The Toolakea storm surge occurred at low tide; however the surge and large waves caused extensive damage along the Strand and at Cape Pallarenda. The data from the Townsville tide gauge shows a storm surge of 2.9m just after low tide. Obviously with the huge impact the storm surge and waves had at Townsville if Althea had arrived near high tide a potential disaster would have occurred with possibly many lives lost.

The Insurance Council of Australia estimated the 1971 cost to be $25m, with the 2007 estimated repeated cost of $484m.

A detailed modelling of Cyclone Althea is available in this document: Queensland Climate Change and Community Vulnerability to Tropical Cyclones.

Jeff Callaghan, retired senior BOM forecaster on Cyclone Althea

Rockhampton Regional Council in partnership with the Queensland a…

Cyclone Althea, 1971: Townsville harbour tidal gauge

Cyclone Althea, 1971: mean sea level analysis 23 Dec

Cyclone Althea, 1971: Wind speed and direction measurements from …

Cyclone Althea - Map of salt water innundation levels