2019 Townsville flood

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2019 Townsville and northwest Queensland floods
Oonoonba State School during the 2019 Townsville flood.jpg
Oonoonba State School during the 2019 Townsville flood
Date23 January 2019 (2019-01-23) - 7 February 2019 (2019-02-07)
LocationNorthwest Queensland
CauseTropical Low 13U
Monsoon Trough
Deaths5 (3 direct, 2 indirect)
Property damage$1.243 billion (AUD)

The 2019 Townsville flood was a major flood event that occurred in the city of Townsville and surrounding areas, on the eastern coast of Queensland, Australia.[1] Townsville has endured around 20 major flooding events since colonial settlement in the 1860s, but the 2019 event was one of the worst natural disasters to ever impact the region.[2] The 2019 Townsville flood was caused by a slow-moving tropical low, situated east of Mt Isa, embedded in a stalled, but vigorously active, monsoon trough. Northerly, moisture-rich monsoonal air driven by the tropical low was encountered by coastal south-easterly winds, creating a convergence zone of unstable weather. The net result of the two opposing air masses was then driven westwards over the mainland.[3] The system persisted for approximately one week with little deviation or movement, producing consistent medium to heavy rainfall over the affected areas, with isolated very heavy showers and locally damaging winds. Major to historic flooding occurred across the Townsville region as a result.

Two fatalities were reported after bodies were found in floodwaters [4] and a third person reported missing was never found.[5] Two additional deaths were reported on February 12 and February 26 due to melioidosis, with at least 10 more hospitalised with the bacterial infection.[6] The weather system went on to produce major flooding in northern Central Queensland, most of which was severely drought-stricken. In addition to damaged infrastructure such as train lines, as many as 500,000 cattle were estimated to have perished in the ensuing floodwaters.[7]

Some Townsville suburbs, particularly Rosslea, Hermit Park, and Idalia, experienced major inundation, with pockets of intense rainfall causing dangerous flash flooding in the northern suburb of Bluewater. Record heights at the Ross River Dam forced emergency planners to fully open the dam's spillway, releasing additional water into the Ross River, further compounding the existing flooding downstream. Severe erosion was observed on the banks of the Ross River, causing structural damage to pathways and boardwalks. The rushing of water caused supporting rocks and concrete under one particular section of pathway to be eroded away, creating a dangerous hazard for pedestrians. Record spillway heights at Aplins Weir caused damage to a pedestrian bridge.

Multiple agencies assisted with rescue and recovery, including State Emergency Service (SES) Queensland Government, Townsville City Council, Queensland Rural Fire Service, Australian Defence Force and Team Rubicon Australia (Now known as Disaster Relief Australia). Notably, many locals volunteered to assist emergency services, evacuating trapped residents by boat from their flooded homes. The large number of volunteers, boats, and resulting queue of helpers were later dubbed the "tinny army" by local media.

The floods were one of Queensland's worst natural disasters, and had heavily impacted the region. Townsville has a long history of battles against the extremes of heavy flooding and long droughts.[8]

Approximately 3300 homes were damaged by floodwaters, and about 1500 homes rendered uninhabitable. As many as 30,000 insurance claims were filed in the aftermath of the event, with damages estimated to be $1.243 billion AUD based on insurance losses.[9]

Meteorological synopsis[edit]

Track of Tropical Low 13U

During the second half of January 2019, a pulse of the Madden–Julian oscillation moved through the Australian region, where it invigorated a weak monsoon trough that was located to the north of the Australian continent.[10] At this stage, the monsoon trough contained two tropical lows, one of which was located within the Torres Strait, while the other low was located within the Timor Sea.[11] Over the next few days, the monsoon trough intensified, as it moved southwards and several areas of low pressure were identified along this trough, around the Cape York Peninsula.[10]


  1. ^ "Townsville flooding continues as hundreds wait for waters to recede" (Text). ABC News. 5 February 2019. Archived from the original on 5 February 2019. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  2. ^ White, Patrick (Spring 2020). "The Competing Influences of Deluge and Drought in Queensland's Dry Tropics | Environment & Society Portal". www.environmentandsociety.org. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  3. ^ "BOM says Townsville flooding far from over, as city lies trapped in weather 'convergence' zone - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". Archived from the original on 5 February 2019. Retrieved 5 February 2019.
  4. ^ "Bodies found in flood waters to be treated as Indigenous deaths in custody". SBS News. Archived from the original on 10 June 2019. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  5. ^ Crockford, Toby (13 February 2019). "Family hires chopper in search for man thrown off tinnie five days ago". The Canberra Times. Archived from the original on 30 May 2019. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  6. ^ "Townsville flood authorities confirm death from soil bacteria, several others in intensive care". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 13 February 2019. Archived from the original on 13 February 2019. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  7. ^ "Summer Floods in Australia". NASA Earth Observatory. 13 February 2019. Archived from the original on 18 February 2019. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  8. ^ White, Patrick (Spring 2020). "The Competing Influences of Deluge and Drought in Queensland's Dry Tropics". | Environment & Society Portal. Archived from the original on 2 December 2020. Retrieved 2 December 2020.
  9. ^ "Insurers reveal Townsville flood cost, warn region is 'unprofitable'" (Text). Australian Financial Review. 3 September 2019. Archived from the original on 4 August 2019. Retrieved 3 September 2019.
  10. ^ a b Special Climate Statement 69 — an extended period of heavy rainfall and flooding in tropical Queensland (PDF) (Report). Australian Bureau of Meteorology. 8 March 2019. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 November 2020. Retrieved 22 November 2020.
  11. ^ Weekly Tropical Climate Note 22 January 2019 (Report). Australian Bureau of Meteorology. 22 January 2019. Archived from the original on 5 December 2020. Retrieved 5 December 2020.