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2003 Tropical Cyclone Debbie
and the effect it had on Katherine Northern Territory



19th December 2003 as School holidays had commenced , another of our Tropical lifestyle companions  developed in the Arafura Sea.

Tropical Cyclone Debbie roared into action as it cruised Westward towards Darwin, (If you were guided by the NT News you were doomed if you happened to live in Darwin) but then took a more Southerly turn and crossed the coast heading deeper into Arnhemland as it "weakened".

It kept its momentum as a tropical depression dumping its load as it went, which isnt all that bad when it is moving (the load is spread), but something strange happened as it approached Katherine. During the day before it had dumped .251 mm in various points in the Katherine Rivers upper catchment (Yeralba Ridge) , this was to have an effect on river levels in the next few days.

Looking North of town as the Tropical Depression came closer DEC 21 2003

But as it headed South it was as if Tindal Radar was a magnet and was drawing the swirling core of the ex-cyclone to sit smack on the radar dome. (I just wish I had all the radar images that we were watching online at the time) (only managed to keep one). In Radar terms (the old radar colours of Yellow & the blues with Yellow being moderate rainfall) the "core" of Ex Debbie was about 30 km wide in diameter. So on a map the rim of the core was on the outskirts of Katherine and a few km past Cutta Cutta Caves area, The rest of the Katherine region was blue with more defined clear areas continuing in a swirl around the centre.

Apart from being drawn to the radar dome area (as we could see on the BOM radar) the mass became stationary (still a huge swirling yellow mass dumping its load) for a whole 6 hours before heading West South West again into the Victoria River District of the NT.

Record Rainfall for Katherine

At this time Tindal had received a whopping 284 mm (majority of it basically over 6 hours) Katherine Township received 228mm (& Research Farm 250mm).
See here for the Daily Summary

Such a large dump of rain in a short period only means trouble, and Tindal Creek became a means of dispersing this pool of water. Flowing from the Tindal RAAF Base (on the South of Stuart Highway)  & further North (From the Nth side of Highway) it converges  not all that far from the rear of the WeighBridge just (out of town) & crosses the Stuart Highway yet again before meandering over Urulla Rd and into the Town Drain sysyem crossing the Victoria Highway out near the Railway overpass.

At this time the Katherine River in town was only just starting to get the Rainfall rises from the upper catchment, so combined with the water from Tindal area we had a reasonable river rise.

Over the next day there were many more roads cut off and Kids Birthday parties not attended (if you lived out Florina Road way)

Satellite Image of Tropical Cyclone Debbie over land

BOM Tracking Map

Radar image of ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie over Tindal. It was just starting to move West-South West and skirt under Katherine after 6 hours of sitting in one spot over Tindal

I do not have any images from in town as I was once
again stuck out along Florina Road. Here is the Quarry Crossing
later when it was low enough to come through.
The rest of us got out in sedans the Arvo of Christmas Eve 24th Dec 2003.

Media Release
from Police Fire Emergency Services
Monday 22-Dec-2003 (0000 hrs CST)

Katherine rain

Monday 22 December 2003
Residents of Katherine have been encouraged to be wary of rising water levels in the wake of Cyclone Debbie.
The rain bearing depression is continuing to dump a substantial amount of rain in the Katherine area with falls expected to see a 17-metre level at the Katherine River Bridge between midnight tonight and 3 am.

Commander Kate Vanderlaan, said it was important for motorists in the area to take extra care, especially at Gorge Road which is now closed. There could be local flooding and sections of the Stuart Highway are expected to be affected by floodwaters.

At this stage there is no cause for any concern. An update will be provided by early tomorrow.

2 images below are sat images over Katherine during the "swirl"

Browse BOM Radar Archive for 21st Dec 2003

You have to input your own times dates & amount of images to see the Australia wide hourly radar images.

See here for a 3hrX3hr blow by blow record of TC Debbie
Larger Tracking Map.
This site has links to Google Earth Capabilities (which recreate the event in an overlay as well as mpeg movies of December 2003 for the Globe)

From the Japanese Typhoon records

So once again Katherine experiences another Weather extreme that could of been much much worse if the "eye" of the depression had of stopped for 6 hours, just 30 km North of where it actually did.
The Majority of the rainfall that entered the River systems form the 6 hours of dumping went in either by Tindal Creek or  Maud Creek. Tindal creek enters the Katherine River South of any River Gauge (the closest is upstream at Katherine Bridge) & Maud Creek is South East of the (downstream of the Nitmiluk water recording site) and would not of been factored into any water rise calculations. It could of been an interesting Christmas in Katherine. But over the last few years we are much wiser.


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