DEBBIE MAKES LANDFALL: Cyclone smashes into north Queensland with gusts over 260km/h

North Queensland is now in the grip of Cyclone Debbie, a Category 4 storm making landfall around Bowen.

Some areas are pegged to be hit by by 500 millimetres of rain in the next 24 hours. (For the old-schoolers, that’s 20 inches.)

That’s just 50mm less than the national average for all of 2016.

Evacuations are under way in many towns, from Mackay up to Townsville.

Wind speeds up to 275km/h expected. Hamilton Island recorded a 263km/h gust just after 11am.

Here’s Airlie Beach as Debbie approached:

It’s expected to affect regions as far as 100km inland.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Adam Blazak told news.com.au that regions hit by the cyclone could be exposed to damaging weather for up to 18 hours.

And there’s still a chance it could be upgraded to a Category 5.

Everyone’s hoping for the least-case scenario, but unfortunately, while plenty of monster cyclones come and go leaving behind just a fraction of the possible damage predicted, history hasn’t been kind they mix with population centres and productive farmland.

Boats

Airlie Beach is the home to millions of dollars worth of yacht porn. The Abell Point Marina, which has 507 berths, recently completed a $12 million facelift to ramp up the destination as a boaties’ paradise even further.

Here’s the first casualty:

Insurance

Suncorp has already informed the stockmarket it is “well-protected”, with catastrophe reinsurance covering it for up to $6.9 billion. The clean-up bill for Cyclone Yasi, in 2011, was $1.3 billion.

Fruit and veg prices

Local fruit and vegetable growers say more than $1 billion in crops were at risk.

In its path are Australia’s main winter crop producers of capsicums, tomatos, pumpkin, corn, eggplant and beans.

It could also cause problems for up to half of Australia’s sugar cane crop, with some 1100 farmers to be affected by Debbie’s predicted path. A spokeswoman told the ABC that if Debbie’s winds were strong enough to snap the cane or it was underwater for more than 24 hours, large losses could be expected.

In 2011, Cyclone Yasi wiped out 75 per cent of Australia’s banana crop, sending prices skyrocketing to $15/kg. Cyclone Larry caused a banana shortage for nearly a year in 2006, when it destroyed $500 million in crops and farming infrastructure.

And the last time Bowen’s tomato crop was affected by heavy rain, in 2011, prices rose by more than 50%.

Coal

Debbie’s predicted path takes it through a heap of key mining infrastructure. Ports, railways, mines – they’re all in the firing line. Macquarie Research supplied a map to underline the point:

It expects coal loading facility Abbott Point to bear the initial brunt as Debbie makes landfall, and says there is “elevated risk” to the facility.

But it only expects an impact on coal prices if heavy rainfall affects production in the northern Bowen Basin. Then Macquarie says “we would expect to see near-term strength in spot coking coal prices”.

Floods

Some predictions are warning of a tidal surge of up to eight metres along the coast.

Police are doorknocking in towns mostly likely to be hit, trying to get people to evacuate their homes, but not always with success.

In the small town of Alva Beach, south of Townsville, the Courier Mail reports some residents signing disclaimers confirming they’ll stay and wait it out, despite warnings of a four-metre tidal surge predicted for that part of the coast.

Mackay’s Mayor, Greg Williamson, even said he’d heard of people surfing in increased swells.

Porpoises

In 1899, when Cyclone Mahina hit north of Cooktown, a nine-metre tidal surge left dead porpoises on the clifftops.

It also took more than 400 human lives. Mahina was Australia’s deadliest cyclone to date.

Environment

According to Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s David Wachenfeld, Debbie covers about half of the reef, which widens south of Townsville.

Concerns for wave and wind damage to the ecosystem are high.

“There’s probably quite a lot of reef area in the footprint of Cyclone Debbie that’s a risk of damage,” he told ABC.

Reporters

It’s now a staple of natural disaster reporting – see who can put their staff in the heaviest line of fire. With any luck, there’s a viral in it.

Feel sorry for these poor journalists doing anything to keep their jobs:

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