Devastating storm risk looms

A STORM event with the potential to devastate local coastal communities is just around the corner, a coastal expert has warned.

Broken Head academic Dr Peter Helman has studied the coast and climate for more than a decade and has compiled a database of severe storms on Australia’s east coast over the past 200 years.

He said weather cycles usually lasted 20 to 30 years and could generally be categorised as either hot and dry or wet and stormy.

The 1954 cyclone that devastated Byron Bay’s jetty and flooded North Coast communities correlated with a wet cycle, as did the 1974 cyclone.

He said the east coast re-entered a wet and stormy cycle in 2006, but this time around, with sea level rise and already-eroded dunes, there was potential for even more damage.

“The face cut into the dunes at Tallow Beach in 1974 is still there. In a normal coastal cycle without sea level rise, the storm face would be cut, then the foredunes grew.

“Now the foredune has slowly eroded away because of sea level rise, but without energy. It’s just been nibbled away.

“We now have the most inland storm face, a higher sea level and storm energy coming.

“I think (what will happen) next is obvious.”

Dr Helman said a storm like 1974 would be disastrous.

Up to 300 houses could be lost between South-East Queensland and Sydney.

And the “big one” could happen as early as this year.

“The east coast lows usually start around Easter,” Dr Helman said.

“Before winter, we could well have a severe east coast low, which is a very common pattern in storm history. I could give you 20 storm years that had followed that pattern.”

Dr Helman said Cyclone Yasi might have cooled things down a bit and taken the pressure off, but it was still an unknown.

“In some years we’ve seen two cyclones just a month apart,” he said.

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