Natural Disasters in Australia: Catastrophes of the Past and Risks of the Future

Australia is on the other side of the world from Europe. It is an amazing country that seems like a fairytale place. It has extraordinary animals, the largest coral reef in the world, mountains and lakes of unusual colours. Every year more and more holidaymakers come here, and they should know in advance what natural disasters or catastrophes they might encounter. A natural disaster always comes unexpectedly, but if you know about its potential, you can prepare for it.

Climate of Australia

Australia is an isolated continent that sits on a quiet lithospheric plate, far from fault lines in the Earth’s crust. This results in a relatively stable tectonic environment. The country is characterized by few earthquakes and a complete absence of volcanism.

Mainland Australia is divided into three climatic zones. In the far north is the area of the subequatorial climate, which is characterised by high humidity and high average annual temperatures. As a result, there is no winter in these places.

In the south is the subtropical belt, with a characteristic Mediterranean climate. Most of the country lies within the arid tropical belt. Only the East Coast has a humid tropical climate.

The island of Tasmania lies in the temperate zone.

The country’s weather is strongly influenced by ocean currents. On the Indian Ocean side, the coast is washed by cold currents, which bring a minimum of rainfall and contribute to the formation of an arid climate. The Pacific Ocean is dominated by warm currents that bring large amounts of rainfall. However, this rainfall does not penetrate deep into the area, but remains on the slopes of the watershed ridge. Maximum rainfall occurs between October and March.

Australian summers are characterised by consistently high temperatures and, in some places, minimal rainfall. This leads to frequent forest fires. Although the amount of forest in the country is relatively small, fires can pose a real threat to residents and tourists.

Potential hazards that could cause a natural disaster in Australia include

1. Seismic activity. Small, strong earthquakes are unlikely to occur in the country. Most quakes are recorded in the southern regions of Australia, but they rarely reach a magnitude of 5 and are therefore not destructive.

2. Volcanism. There is no volcanism on the mainland. The only active volcano is on an uninhabited island in the Indian Ocean and is not a threat to tourists.

3. Highlands. Australia’s mountains are of average height, almost nowhere exceeding 2 kilometres. The threat of rock falls and landslides is minimal, mainly associated with heavy rainfall. There is no threat from avalanches or mudflows.

4. Forest cover. Approximately 18% of the country’s territory is covered by forest, so there are many cases of natural fires every year, which can potentially threaten small villages and individual groups of tourists. The main causes of these fires are intense heat, lightning and human activity.

5. The sea coast. The East Coast is protected from severe storms by the Great Barrier Reef. However, in the west of the country, strong storms are possible due to the passage of tropical cyclones.

6. Heavy rainfall. Causes short-term flooding that peaks in the local summer. Floods can be devastating and threaten to inundate major cities such as Sydney and Brisbane.

The importance of studying the history of natural disasters

The history of natural disasters is important information to learn before travelling to your chosen country. Knowing the potential dangers you may face will not only help you choose the right location, but also the time of year and season when the risk of being at the epicentre of a natural disaster is minimal.

For example, if you know that heavy rainfall, cyclones and wildfires are common between November and February, you can choose a different time to travel to Australia. And the local summer temperatures are too high for a comfortable holiday.

In this article, you will learn about the chronology of natural disasters that have occurred in Australia in the past.


Earthquake in Australia - News

Earthquake in Australia

The entire continent of Australia lies on the tectonic plate of the same name. This is a rather ancient and quiet lithospheric formation, whose boundaries with the Pacific Plate are in the area of the islands of New Zealand and New Guinea, and with the Eurasian Plate – at the Zond Islands. As a result, Australia itself is well removed from fault zones and is seismically stable. As a result, earthquakes here are rare and not of high intensity.

28 December 1989

The most destructive earthquake in recent decades occurred near the city of Newcastle in the state of New South Wales. It measured 5.6 on the Richter scale and strong tremors were felt as far away as Sydney. As a result, 50,000 houses were damaged, but only 300 were completely destroyed. 13 people died, 9 of them in the Workers’ Club when the roof collapsed. The total damage caused by the earthquake exceeds 4 billion dollars.

22 September 2021

This time, the epicentre of the earthquake was the town of Mansfield in southern Australia, near Melbourne. It was more powerful than the 1989 earthquake, but much less destructive. The magnitude of the quake was 5.9. Buildings in several towns were slightly damaged, there were no fatalities and only one person was slightly injured.

Volcanic Eruptions

There are 18 volcanoes in Australia, most of which were active many thousands of years ago and are considered extinct. The country’s only active volcano is located in the Indian Ocean on Hurd Island, 4,500 kilometres from the mainland. The volcano, called Mawson Peak, erupts regularly but is not a threat to Australia itself.


Flooding in Australia - News

Floods in Australia - News

This is the most common natural disaster in Australia and the one that causes the most loss of life. The incidence of floods is linked to the climatic conditions of eastern Australia, which receives large amounts of rainfall from the Pacific Ocean. More than 160,000 floods have been recorded here in the last ten years, most of which posed no threat.

October 2022

Torrential rainfall beginning in October 2022 and continuing through the winter causes river levels to rise in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania. Global flood peaks were recorded on many rivers. The worst damage was in Victoria, where thousands of homes were flooded, and power supplies were cut. In the city of Rochester alone, 85% of homes were flooded. At least 7 people died as a result of the floods.

12 February 2022

A series of floods hit eastern Australia. The states of Queensland and New South Wales were particularly hard hit. In Brisbane, 700 millimetres of rain fell in three days, causing the water level of the local river to rise 2.3 metres above the critical level. Even the city’s business centre was flooded. More than 20,000 homes were flooded. The floods claimed 27 lives and caused $4.8 billion in damage.

January-February 2019

This year, the north-western parts of the state of Queensland were affected, especially the city of Townsville, where entire neighbourhoods were flooded. The floods were caused by heavy rainfall from an area of low pressure over mainland Queensland, which allowed rain to move in from the sea. The floods killed 5 people and caused $1.2 billion in damage.


Devastation after Cyclone in Australia - News

Cyclone devastation in Australia - News

Tropical cyclones hit Australia regularly, but only in the northern areas. They occur either in the Coral Sea or the Indian Ocean, sometimes over land. Their intensity is usually not comparable to that of typhoons and cyclones in South East Asia.

January 2022, Cyclone Seth

Cyclone Seth formed in the Timor Sea, crossed northern Australia, then the Coral Sea and made landfall in south-eastern Queensland. It was accompanied by gale-force winds and heavy rain. Many beaches on the east coast were closed to holidaymakers, but deaths were inevitable. A woman drowned in New South Wales and a man was blown off a cliff by a gust of wind. The total number of deaths was 4.

12 February 2020, Cyclone Damien

This cyclone formed in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, entered the Indian Ocean and made landfall near Karratha. It reached speeds of 160 kilometres per hour near the town of Pilbara. The cyclone ripped off roofs and felled century-old trees, leaving 10,000 people without light. Damage in the town of Karratha, where Damien hit hardest, reached $6 million.

March 2017, Cyclone Debbie

Cyclone Debbie formed in the Coral Sea, south of the island of New Guinea, and soon reached the Queensland coast. Wind speeds at this point reached 175 kilometres per hour. Much of the state was left without power, and the wind blew trees onto power poles and houses. Heavy rainfall caused severe flooding in the region. As a result, 14 people died and damage exceeded $2 billion.

Forest Fires

Fire in Australia- News

News about fire in Australia

Although Australia’s forest cover does not exceed 18%, this natural disaster causes huge damage to the economy and occurs regularly throughout the year. Fires are usually caused by hot, dry weather.

The 1974-1975 season

This season was the worst in the country’s history. More than 1 million square kilometres of forest burned, more than the area of France and Spain combined. Fires covered the north, south and even the central desert areas. As a result, 6 people and 57,000 pets died.

The 2008-2009 season

In that year, most fires were recorded in the north of the country, but the state of Victoria in the south suffered the most damage from wildfires. Extreme heat caused large fires to sweep across the most densely populated state. The fires were not confined to forest areas and reached settlements. 2,000,000 houses were completely burnt out and 173 people died in the fires. In total, 450 thousand hectares of forest and agricultural land were destroyed.

The 2019-2020 season

This season was called the Black Summer. Due to a severe drought, the fires started in Queensland and quickly spread up the east coast, reaching New South Wales and Victoria. Australian firefighters were unable to cope, and colleagues from the United States, Canada and New Zealand came to help. Planes, helicopters and other fire-fighting equipment were used. Smoke from the fires covered Sydney. The fires destroyed 3500 homes, 34 people died directly from the fires (including 3 American firefighters), and another 445 people died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Total damage reached 1 billion US dollars.

Extreme Heat

During the Australian summer, from December to February, southern regions often experience abnormal heat, known as heat waves. They occur in an area of high atmospheric pressure that moves very slowly.


Southern Australia experienced unprecedented high temperatures between 25 January and 9 February. In Adelaide, the average daily maximum temperature exceeded +40 degrees Celsius, while in Melbourne the average temperature was +36 degrees Celsius. Tasmania saw a record temperature of +42.2 degrees Celsius. The heat wave led to numerous wildfires. There were 374 recorded deaths related in one way or another to the high temperatures.


This is a rare event in Australia. Landslides occur in mountainous areas and are caused by heavy rainfall that liquefies the ground.

30 July 1997

A landslide in the Thredbo ski resort was triggered by prolonged heavy rainfall. Two ski chalets were completely destroyed with only one survivor. The death toll was 18.


Floods are the biggest threat to tourists holidaying in Australia. They are characteristic of the east coast, where almost all of the country’s popular resorts are located. Floods can also cause short-term flooding in major cities.

Flooding can be caused by tropical cyclones that affect the Queensland coast, a popular tourist destination on the Gold Coast. Cyclones are most common from November to December.

The threat of bushfires to tourists is low, but many parts of the country are badly affected by the scourge. Smog from forest fires can reach popular resorts and spoil a pleasant holiday.

There is no risk of earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.

The best time to visit Australia is from September to December and from February to April, although the rest of the year is not too dangerous. At this time of year, flooding is minimal, cyclones are less active and air and water temperatures are comfortable.

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