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Philip Duncan attacks “idiotic morons” after Cyclone Yasi

Question from “Mike”:

“Lots of people in Australia are saying this was just a media beatup and that it was in the medias interest to hype the storm to sell news. Officials saying there would be fatalities, its a storm like we havent seen before etc etc etc.

In the end, I think the highest winds actually recorded by land instruments were 180kmph, no deaths known so far, damage way less than expected. Locals that experienced other cyclones saying this one wasnt as bad and was just a bad storm.

So was it hyped up? where were the 300kmph winds that the media kept talking about? Will this mean next time people might not take the media and government so seriously when another big cyclone comes in?”
– Mike

Here’s my reply:

“Hi Mike,

I was waiting for someone to post this – not attacking you at all, as you’re asking the question, but I feel very passionately about this and people who react this way (not you – the people who you talk about) really annoy me.

This storm was bigger and more powerful than Hurricane Katrina. We saw what Katrina did so we knew we were dealing with something more dangerous. Firstly, the media didn’t do a beat up. The media very accurately covered this system and in fact I’d argue that it took some media outlets a little too long to really get going on the coverage.

Let me address each point raised.

This storm would cause fatalities. (And again, my language will be strong – this is not attacking you, more so attacking those that would suggest this wasn’t a ‘real’ threat). Nothing makes me more angry than hearing people who sound almost disappointed that there weren’t deaths. As if to say that if someone was unfortunate enough to die then the forecasters/media/officials were right, but if no one dies then they were wrong and it was all “hype”. That same reasoning would be – if you don’t wear a seatbelt you are more likely to die in a car crash… then at the end of the year, when no one has died from not wearing their seatbelt, some in the public get annoyed with the media and government for screening ads like that because so far no one has died this year from not wearing their seatbelt.

Have these people not seen the photos? Entire towns have almost been wiped away. Where the cyclone made landfall all of the trees in some areas were wiped out. Remember these communities were completely evacuated. There was pretty much no one left there to die.

The storm also made landfall between two major cities – not over them. Katrina killed so many in New Orleans because the storm hit the city. While the models very accurately picked where this storm would make landfall, the margin of error with these systems is still fairly high. A slight jog to the north or south and Cairns or Townsville would have suffered, quite literally, catastrophic damage. One of the evacuations centres was evacuated itself as they felt it wouldn’t hold up to the storm…and it didn’t. The building was completely destroyed. If they had stayed there, there could have been many deaths.

The fact that no one died shows that we are intelligent and smart and knew what was coming and warned about it and we, for the most part, got out its way.

Another point raised – some locals say this was just a storm, they’ve experienced worse. I believe that. The thing with cyclones is that the most severe winds only cover a fairly small area – but that area is basically a “deadly wall of wind”. On the outsides of that core, it is just a windy, wet, system. We saw a very tiny example of this with Wilma. Northland was badly flooded – but just down the road in Auckland it was a non event. So there will always be a large group of people within the warning zone that just get a bit of wind and rain.

In today’s New Zealand Herald cameraman Geoff Mackley – a well known camerman who frequently flies to where storms will make landfall to film them – said the noise of the wind as the core of the cyclone passed over them was earsplitting.

“It was louder than you could ever imagine. Louder than a jet engine taking off. Louder than anything really.

Mr Mackley has chased about 40 storms across New Zealand and Australia, but said being at the heart of Yasi was one of the most intense experiences he had had.

“This was right up there with the strongest I’ve ever been in. The doors blew out of the hotel and 300km/h winds were flying through the hotel reception area. We were in there, hiding in a small library off to the side of the main entrance, watching as stuff goes flying through. It was amazing.”

He was in the heart of it. Most people were not – they were told they had to evacuate.

With regards to the weather stations – again, remember the core of the storm is not huge. It’s about 150kms, if that. But the wide path – the distance of Auckland to Hamilton – is like a large scale tornado coming in. Trees snapped in half (not even uprooted), houses removed from their foundations, boats blown around like paper bags, powerpoles snapped in half (imagine that strength).

There are only a small handful of weather stations in this part of Australia – between Cairns and Townsville isn’t so heavily populated. The weather stations only record what is happening where they are – clearly none were in a position to record the highest winds. Seeing the damage where Yasi made landfall, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that the winds were around 300km/h when the cyclone made landfall.

Again Mike, thank you for bringing this up – you asked the question well and I hope you don’t take my reply as an attack on you – I just feel angry, sick to the stomach that people could think this was all just some sort of publicity stunt and blame the media and government and forecasters because there weren’t deaths, or any weather stations recording 300km/h winds (by the way, most weather stations would break before they got to that). These would be the sort of moronic idiots that would ignore evacuation orders and then need help from emergency services in the middle of the night – or worse still, actually be killed.

Make no mistake – this was the most powerful storm to hit a populated part of Australia in living memory. Rather than being angry that no one died (wow, why don’t they make placards and demand more deaths) they should celebrate the fact that no one did die and that the storm hit a less populated part.

It never ceases to amaze me that when a mircale happens there is a portion of people who are angry that things weren’t worse – just so they can feel better about the predictions”.

– Philip Duncan


Gary on 5/02/2011 9:29am

Interestingly as of Saturday afternoon, the centre of Yasi is still identifiable on the Alice Springs Radar, although not a cyclone obviously. That doesn’t happen very often.

Barbara on 4/02/2011 7:21am

Thank you for the thorough updates and warnings. You are an expert with great diplomacy. I for one appreciate you and your work very much. Again,thank you.

WW Forecast Team on 4/02/2011 4:43am

Hi everyone – thanks for the overwhelming support.  I’ve read all your messages and they are fantastic. Some made me laugh!

Appreciate the feedback and comments from you all.

Have a great weekend – I’m looking forward to doing nothing!!



Andrew on 4/02/2011 3:33am

I was a Y2K manager and people were disappointed that no disasters happened when the clock struck midnight on 1 Jan 2000. Few people even considered the 5 years of work before that date to ensure disasters didn’t happen. Yasi is a good example of outstanding planning and everyone got out as they were still recovering from the first few cyclones!

Alas, I fear that rainfall inland will gently wind it’s way through towns over the next few weeks so this cyclones influence will continue to be felt for sometime yet.

Bob D on 4/02/2011 1:25am

I agree with almost everything Philip has written, but remember that Katrina (a cat 3 at landfall) was not the main issue New Orleans had. The damage from Katrina was typical for what you’d expect when a cat 3 hits a city (bad), but really the disaster came after Katrina from the failure of the levees – a political problem, not a weather problem.

Philip makes a good point about the wind speeds. Yasi went right over the top of Willis Island, and the instruments failed at gusts of 180km/h. No doubt the winds went higher. However, there was clearly a bit of media hype going on, for example a reporter in Cairns talked about wind speeds of 150km/h, yet the Cairns weather station reported maximum gusts of only 90km/h. Maybe there was another source of wind speed, but it seems odd it wasn’t picked up by the official weather station then.

Just one other point – a cat 5 in Australia is different to a cat 5 in the Saffir-Simpson scale, they use different criteria. Yasi would probably have been a cat 4 on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
See here.

Raewyn on 4/02/2011 12:51am

Do these people stop and think that there could have been deaths if it wasnt for the brilliant media coverage and so called ‘hyping up’ of the cyclone?

Please dont let these morons get to you, there are a hundred fold more people that appreciate, respect and trust what yourself and others did during this upseting time.


I have family in Cairns that would not have evacuated if it werent for me conveying what your team was putting up as updates, the information you provided was clear and precise and easy to pass on. Thank you from all off my family.

Guest on 3/02/2011 11:32pm

Hi Phillip, getting wound up about people knocking the forecasts made for Yasi is a waste of precious energy, and if you make yourself “sick to the stomach” how are you going to keep giving us these wonderful forecasts and updates to keep us as safe as we can when the weather turns inclement? Anyone who believes that this was a media beatup, in the face of all the evidence, isn’t going to hear anything other than their own opinion anyway. I think its like the Christchurch earthquake – because there weren’t hundred of fatalities, many people thought it was only a minor event – until they saw the footage of the damage. Methinks your “idiotic morons” watch too much Hollywood!

Keep up the awesome work!

Guest rose on 3/02/2011 11:21pm

I was online during and after, on web cams in North Queensland. And the comments that I heard about Yasi ranged from frightening for the people still in the path to foolish from spectators. There was 2 ‘storm chasers’ who were in Cadwell (sp) before the event who made the very wise decision to leave and go to Ingham. We have to remember the size of this cyclone would have ‘eaten’ Auckland. North Queensland is a huge area. And the photos and stories coming out of the small towns that were cut off yesterday are gob smaking. All my praise goes to the media for passing on the right information and my thanks go to the people who evacuated rather than stay-smart Aussies aye?

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