Rockhampton – Huge Rain Event January 2013

Posted on Sat 01/26/2013 by


While this Post is timed for the early AM hours on Saturday Morning (U.S. time, which is during Saturday afternoon local time here in Rockhampton Queensland) I started writing it as soon as this event had all but finished which was around 3PM local time on the Friday Afternoon. The Power had  been off for almost 8 hours, and even though the power did come back on at that time, most of the phone lines, both for the landline and mobile phones were still down, and because of that, there was also no Internet access. I worked this up on my Word Processor, so as soon as the Internet did come back up, I would be ready to Post something about it. My Internet access did not come back on line until around Midday on the Saturday, around 4 hours ago. This morning, with the Internet still down, I added two UPDATES to this Post, and they are at the bottom of this Post. With the images shown at this Post, if you click on the image it will open in a new and larger window.

Rockhampton Queensland Where I live here in Rockhampton, a reasonably large city on the Coastline  in the area of Central Queensland Australia, around 500 miles or so North of the State Capital Brisbane, we have just been in a major rain event.

It rained hard for just over 40 hours straight. The only time it wasn’t raining hard was when it actually rained even harder. In our area, the City of Rockhampton, we had 520 mm (millimetres) of rain during those 40 hours, and for readers more comfortable with the old measures that’s just a tick under 21 Inches ….. in 40 hours. One place not 50 miles from here recorded 810 mm, which is just under thirty two and a half inches.

The rain started out as a small Category One Cyclone which ‘spun up’ in the Gulf Of Carpentaria, which is about 1000 miles from here in Rockhampton. As that Cyclone crossed the Coast, it was almost immediately downgraded from a Cyclone, albeit small, to a Tropical Rain Depression. It rolled West across the Cape to the Pacific Ocean, and then turned South, and over the next four days worked slowly Southwards, dumping huge amounts of rain, and causing flooding all down that stretch of Coastline.

The edges of that vast rain event reached Rockhampton at around 5PM on the Wednesday afternoon, and the heavy rain started at around 6PM. Finally, at around 10AM this morning, Friday, the rain became a little sporadic in nature and then stopped at around Midday, and since then, we have had showers, as the rain event moves further Southwards towards the more densely populated areas around the South East Corner of the State, the area surrounding the State Capital, Brisbane.

To top it off, as we awoke on this Friday morning, the power had gone off, and in the area around Rockhampton, around 18,000 customers were without power. Because of this loss of power, and the fact that water was coming into them, most of the major shopping Centres were closed down, and have remained closed. Finally, after almost 8 hours without electrical power, it finally came back on at around 3PM.

In a neighbouring suburb, barely 2 miles from here, and where our daughter and her family live, they also lost their water supply. Evidently, a major water pipe had burst, and while they were in the process of trying to locate the exact site of where it had burst, they shut all the water off to perhaps a couple of thousand homes in that area. Our daughter visited us early, ad the first thing she wanted was a coffee, as we had water, but to no avail as we had no power to even boil the jug.

Early on, as the rain started, I was watching it on the weather radar, and the area covered is around 250 miles across on the smallest scale. The whole screen was completely covered with the colour representing heavy rain. The centre of this rain event moved ever so crawlingly slowly, and then for a number of hours seemed to be stationary, hovering over Gladstone, barely a hundred miles from here

The rain I experienced during this recent rain event was about the same strength as was the rain I had been in during those monsoon events during those earlier deployments with the Air Force, and also as strong as it was during periods under that Cyclone, but this rain event, instead of it being in short bursts as it was then, this was constant and heavy for all those 40 hours.

Right now, and it’s 5PM Friday as I write this, barely 7 hours after the rain has stopped, there are still a few shower flurries, and the clean up has begun.  As soon as it looked like it was going to stay relatively clear, I went outside at our home, and cleaned up around our house and garden here. Some of the palm trees in the front garden had lost large fronds, and I cleared them away. There is still a couple of inches of water covering some areas of the back lawn, and I can be thankful that I’m not in one of the areas close to here, some as close as only two and three miles, that have been flooded completely.  The local large shopping areas are still closed, and local creeks have overtopped their banks, the water rushing at an incredible speed.

Luckily, I have an old battery powered transistor radio, so I was tuned to the local AM radio station all the while the power was out. They were taking calls from local residents who told of what the situation was like in their areas. Some callers were saying that they have never seen rain like this in all the time they have been here in the area.

The main Fitzroy River is rising already, and as I wrote about during the major flood of 2010/11 during December and January, that flooding across the whole of this vast River system, the second largest river system in Australia after the Murray/Darling Basin, those Rivers flowing into the Fitzroy will all be carrying vast amounts of water, and they all flow into the Fitzroy, and all have to come through central Rockhampton, so in all actuality, the worst of this flood may yet be to come.

The power has been back on for two hours now, but I still have no Internet Connection, so actually posting this will be at a time much later, as soon as I can get back to our home site here.


This morning all the news is of the drama this huge rain event has caused. The rain system is moving ever so slowly South and all along the way, it is causing similar drama as what it caused here in Rockhampton. This same area had a monster flood event in December of 2010 and well into January of 2011. I posted a number of Posts about that event at the following link:

Queensland Australia Flood Disaster Central – Rockhampton

At that link, I detail the early stages of that flood event, and at the bottom of that Post are links to all the further Posts about that flood.

One of the things I mention in one of those further links directly concerns the Fitzroy River Basin, which, as I mentioned earlier is the second largest River System in Australia. That Post I have linked to contains text describing the size of this Basin, and a large image showing all the Rivers in the Fitzroy Basin, and that image, while shown at that Post, can also be seen at this link. This huge system has 9 major rivers in it, and all of them feed into the Fitzroy which flows directly through Rockhampton. During that major flood event of 2010/11, every one of those rivers was in flood, and that is what caused the major problem with flooding here in Rockhampton.

Riverslea Crossing Fitzroy River

Riverslea Crossing Fitzroy River

So far, this rain event, while considerable in nature, has not reached too far inland, so some of those major Rivers in our Fitzroy Basin have not had the rain enough to cause them to reach major flood levels. Even so, the flood marker on the River in Rockhampton is still showing 7.25 Metres and rising slowly. The level reached during that major flood of two years ago was around 9.4 Metres, and while the current level is expected to rise, current thinking is that it will not reach that level this time. Having said that, I have included this image here at right which shows the Riverslea Crossing almost at the start of the Fitzroy, at the point where all the waters from those other Rivers becomes the Fitzroy. As you can see from that image, the water is just flowing over that concrete causeway. The Riverslea Crossing flood marker water level is immediately upstream of the concrete causeway. With the water at the level of the top of the concrete, the marker shows 3.38 Metres. Yesterday morning while listening to the radio with the reports coming in from all over this area, one report was to report river levels at some of the areas. The marker at this Riverslea Crossing was indicating 5.4 Metres. The current level, barely 24 hours later has this same river level at 17.5 Metres and rising, a rise at that station of 12 Metres (39 feet) in barely 24 hours. That crossing is now almost 14 metres underwater, and this is the main river crossing for all those rural farming communities in that area, the only access they have, in and out, so they are virtually stranded on their properties. During that flood of 2010/11, in the 6 Months around that flood, that crossing was impassable for 145 of the 182 days in that period, and now, again, they are stranded, and will be, possibly for weeks to come, as all the water from those Upstream floods in those other Rivers flows past this point on its way to Rockhampton and out into the Pacific Ocean.

Here in Rockhampton, around 6,000 consumers are still without electricity, and the clean up has started in earnest. With the prospect of all that water still to come, while the huge rain event may have passed, there is still a possibility that this could yet stretch out into weeks as those flood waters flow slowly and inexorably past Rockhampton.


I mentioned earlier that I have been in rain of similar strength before, but not for such a long period of time. In the time I spent in the Royal Australian Air Force, and during the time I was posted to just two of the Flying Squadrons I served with, 76 Squadron and 77 Squadron, we would often go away to other bases on Deployment. One of those bases used more frequently than others was the Darwin Base in the far North of Australia. The deployments during the Summer were those times I have been in really heavy rain. Summer in those far Northern areas of Australia are called ‘The Wet’, a shortening of the term ‘the wet season’. This is because during Summer, they are in an area where they have the Monsoon, and until you’ve been in a Monsoon event, you’ve never really experienced rain.

Those Monsoon events were almost like clockwork. Every morning at around 6AM, the huge black clouds would roll over and dump solid heavy, almost blinding rain for around an hour and a half. At around 8AM, it would clear up to a fine hot clear day, and it was always a humid heat, as all that water that had fallen onto the ground was ‘sucked back up’. They even had huge open drains there and with each rain dump, these monsoon drains would run bankers during that hour of rain.

After the stinking hot humid day was almost done, at around 5.30, those huge low, heavy black clouds would roll in again, dump the same rain back down again for another hour, and then clear away to a fine cloud free night.

In 1974, in the early hours of Christmas Day, just after midnight, Tropical Cyclone Tracy rolled directly across the city of Darwin in the early hours of Christmas morning. This intense system was tiny in nature when compared to other Cyclones, some being quite large. However the tiny size and the immense intensity made this Cyclone Tracy the single most destructive Cyclone to ever make landfall in Australia’s modern settled history. The City of Darwin was totally destroyed. Almost a hundred people were killed or went missing, never to be seen again. Whole parts of the city were smashed flat. Of the 45,000 residents of the city at that time, 41,000 were homeless following the Cyclone, and one of the first things done in the massive operation to clean up the city was a mass evacuation of nearly all of those residents. The rest of Australia spent Christmas Day as they normally did, and word slowly filtered out of the terrible destruction and loss of life in Darwin.

Barely three days before that Cyclone struck with such devastation, I was in Darwin with the Air Force, at the end of one of those deployments with 77 Squadron. That deployment had lasted three and a half weeks, and I was with the last crew that flew out on the 22nd December. What makes this important for me, is that the last four days or so of that deployment were spent under the threat of that Cyclone, which started out as a Tropical Depression with the possibility that it might spin up into a Cyclone. It had started to spin up on the 20th December, and on the day prior to that, while it still only a small rain system, the decision was made for the Squadron to pack up and go home early, albeit only three days early, in case we were caught, and stranded there.  The first job was to get our fighter aircraft, the venerable Mirage III, out of there, and while you may think of this as just getting the pilots in their planes and getting them out of there, the flight home had to be accomplished in two parts, the first part of the trip to a half way staging base, and from there, the second part, the flight home. So, even prior to that the staging party had to pack their stuff, and make their way from Darwin to that half way point to be ready when the fighters arrived. This was the first thing done, in a mad, hectic rush, and around ten hours later the first of the fighters left, followed by four more groups of the remaining planes.

mirage-76sqn-raafAt right is an image from my personal collection showing one of these Mirage aircraft. This image is of a Mirage from 76 Squadron, and the only difference between this and the same aircraft from 77 Squadron is the paint work on the tail of the aircraft.

After the aircraft left, the remainder of our Squadron Detachment packed up all the equipment and all their personal stuff, and they left a further 12 hours later for our Home Base. All of this was accomplished in a hectic rush, working virtually around the clock as the storm was dumping huge amounts of rain, and the winds had already starting to pick up. All that left behind now was the Advance Party, the small group who arrived first to set things up and were the last to leave after the final clean up, and I was part of that small group of around 20 or so, who did the final clean up, in readiness to leave our part of the Base as pristine as it was prior to our arrival, usually a task taking two days. All of us in that Advance Party were told to move out of the living quarters we were occupying, and move into the large shower blocks beside our somewhat temporary quarters. During this time, the Cyclone had spun up and was now designated as Cyclone Tracy. The winds howled and the heavy rain lashed us. During breaks, we did what we could to prepare for our own departure, and there was even a thought that we might be left stranded there over Christmas, something none of us wanted as we all wanted to get home to our Base, and proceed on Christmas Leave to be with our families. We were living out of our ‘trunks’, those large metal boxes that supposedly hold every serviceman’s belongings. We were all told to pack our trunks and move into the relatively large shower blocks close by our temporary quarters. These shower blocks were large and very sturdy concrete block structures. We stayed in those shower blocks for almost two days while the Cyclone came closer. We didn’t get much sleep for those two days.

On the 22nd, it was a brighter day, and while still a little windy and with showers, it seemed that the Cyclone had passed by and was not going to be much of a problem. The decision was made to ‘go for it’ and leave, while this Cyclone seemed to be ‘burning itself out’, as this might be our only chance to get out while the getting was good. Luckily, it had cleared up just enough to ‘get the hell’ out of there, and in a rush, still during heavy rain, we all got on that last Hercules and left Darwin. Three days later, I was on Leave, at my family home, and late on Christmas night, we heard of the devastation wrought by Cyclone Tracy. While seeming to burn out on the day we left, it turned back on Darwin, intensified, and crashed into Darwin with such devastating results.

Posted in: Australia, Disaster