115th Anniversary of Cyclone Mahina’s landfall

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Track of Cyclone Mahina (Whittingham, 1958)

On March 4, 1899 a devastating tropical cyclone struck the York Peninsula in northern Queensland, Australia.  The storm’s center made landfall near Bathhurst Bay on the peninsula’s Pacific coast, which was the home anchorage for the pearling fleet that farmed the Great Barrier Reef for the gems.  Some 400 people perished in the storm, approximately 300 on vessels in the Bay and about 100 Aboriginal Australians on land.

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Cyclone Mahina memorial tablet

For many years Mahina held the world’s record for storm surge, estimated at 13 meters (43 feet).  However, recent scholarship has proposed the actual storm surge was more on the order of three to five meters (10-16.5 feet.)  Wave run-up in the small bay may have accounted for marine debris being deposited on the 15 meter (49 feet) cliffs overlooking the beach.

Cyclone Mahina received its name from Clement Wragge, Chief of the Queensland weather bureau.  A few years prior he’d begun the practice of naming tropical cyclones near Australia with women’s names, preferably ones from the South Sea island cultures.  It was a custom that later influenced the use of personal names for Atlantic hurricanes.