Chase Distance: 2834kms
Chasing Hours: 50 hours
Chasers: Andy Barber / Cam Hines (Hinezy)
Cyclone Yasi was our very first cyclone chase ever together. It was an amazing experience to feel the power of the wind and the fury that Mother Nature can deliver to the Queensland coastline. We decided to intercept the storm from the southern edge of the system and embedded ourselves in the 'destructive winds' zone as classified by the Bureau. We experienced wind gusts recorded up to 111.2kph just past lunchtime at Alva Beach just to the south of Townsville. Later on that night we were in Ayr just prior to landfall and travelled to Bowen for the crossing on the coast.
We ended up leaving Brisbane at around 8pm Tuesday night with the plan of reaching Mackay by the next morning. Yasi was still approx. 1000kms off the coast at the time and we were watching the system move to the WSW at around 30-40kph. As we arrived in Mackay at 5am the Wednesday morning, the Bureau updated their Tropical Cyclone advise and upgraded the system to a Category 5 storm. We noticed that the track map now indicated a crossing between Cairns and Townsville so we tried to position ourselves just to the south of Townsville to get in the destructive winds zone.
Our positioning relevant to the Queensland Coast
Eventually Townsville was closes when we arrived which was fine to us as this was our first intercept and we did not want to position ourselves near the core of the Cat 5. (This would have been a foolish - even for a chaser). We positioned ourselves roughly 360kms south of where the eye would eventually cross at Tully. We arrived at Alva Beach just to the south of Townsville at lunchtime and already were experiencing winds sustained at 65kph and gusting to over 100kph. The maximum wind gust recorded at this location was 111.2kph according to our portable weather station unit. The barometric pressure say around the 997 to 994hPa mark.
SBS-WX Dataset - 111.2kph
After recording these gusts and observing these conditions till 2:30pm to then moved back into Ayr for a bite to eat. Ayr was an absolute ghost town with no shops open and everyone evacuated except for one small shop still open. It was an intense feeling driving into Bowen prior and being the only car northbound for a considerable amount of time whilst the traffic in the southerly direction was packed.
We ended up staying in Ayr until roughly 7pm and we then observed wind speeds in the main street gusting to 120kph+. At this point we decided to head back down south to see how Bowen was doing. We cleared a tree that cut the Bruce Highway and arrived in Bowen around 8:30pm. Conditions were deteriorating quite quickly at this point as Yasi made landfall near Cardwell. When we arrived just to the north of Bowen we started to witness multiple power flashes from powerlines touching each other in the extreme winds and also signs blowing away. In Bowen there was mostly minor structural damage to buildings and foliage strewn everywhere from large tree's to large branches. At one point we position ourselves at a train track cross (well in the open to increase the probability of interrupted maximum wind speeds) and we experienced estimated gusts of 120kph+. The howl of the gusts through the electric wires was likened to ghosts in a haunted house and something we have never experienced before. We would have mounted the weather station to something however it was pitch black and could hardly stand up let alone mount the station. It would of been interesting to get that data, but with our safety first rule we decided to stay safe from flying debris we simply couldn't see. The 'Look for Trains' sign ripped off in minutes and blew horizontally to the NW. There also was an unconfirmed report of a resident of Bowen losing their roof (which we failed to find).
Powerflashes in Bowen around 10pm
After this we observed the Bowen Marina storm surge and watching the winds whip onto shore. We physically had to shelter using buildings as wind breaks to capture the footage. We have never ever experienced something so powerful before, it was a truly amazing experience. We often liken this to sitting in a front-row seat at your favorite concert only the band playing is Mother Nature - not Human Nature. We decided after this it was best to head back to Mackay overnight and get out of the way of crews that will be cleaning up once the cyclone past. The next day we decided against aftermath footage and concentrated on another 10 hours drive home after doing a few interviews with media.
Hopefully you enjoy our condensed footage (we have tons) compilation video and images and look forward to chasing the next severe weather event in South-East Queensland.