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The South Coast Tornado

During Friday and Saturday an intense storm formed off the east coast of Australia and started tracking south from Queensland, through the border to New South Wales and on further down the coast. Nothing unusual about that – east coast lows are a regular occurrence in this part of the world. However this storm was destined to produce more than just heavy rain, big ocean swells and lots of precipitation.

On Sunday, at 3:18am I woke up with a start. There was a loud thumping noise coming through the ceiling. My wife woke up too and we both looked at each wondering what the hell was going on. I went to turn my bedside light on but there was no power, so I picked up my iPad, turned it on and used the screen to light my way upstairs. I quickly found the source of the noises. My son had been woken up by loud noises outside the house and he found himself in near total darkness with no light source. Being very afraid of the dark he’d gone to the only lightsource he could find (my laptop screen) and jumped up and down on the floor to try and wake us up, too afraid to brave the stairs. My wife calmed him down, got him a torch and we all went back to bed, assuming that the storm had taken down a power-line, not an unusual occurence. We didn’t really consider what could have awoken our son (a very deep sleeper) at that time of the morning.

In the morning I headed down to the beach to see if the east coast low had spun up some monster waves. It hadn’t, just a very messy swell. However friends told me that there were lots of trees down everywhere – so many in fact that the town was effectively blocked off until the S.E.S. arrived with their chainsaws and cleared the roads. On the news there were reports of strong winds taking the roofs off houses in Kiama. They also referred to ‘mini-tornados’ elsewhere including one near our village of Shoalhaven Heads.

After some exploration everyone quickly realised that there was nothing ‘mini’ about the wind that had blown through this part of south coast New South Wales. Trees were down everywhere, houses had lost roofs, farm buildings had been destroyed and livestock had been killed. Locals with a helicopter took to the air and photographed the destruction – they said that there was a clear line showing the wind’s track, in from the coast and that it linked all the affected spots. Later, as the full extent of the damage became apparent the Bureau of Meteorology confirmed that it was indeed a tornado that had visited us, an F2 tornado at that – more powerful than its cousin that blew through Kiama.

This map shows the tornados track west, from its starting point over the ocean to the end on the outskirts of Nowra.  Here’s what happened next …

Australia is no stranger to extreme weather conditions. It copes with bushfire and flood far better than many countries do, but mother nature has always got a few tricks up her sleeve and nobody I spoke to could remember anything like this happening before. My thoughts go out to those people that lost their homes, livelihoods, livestock and pets to this tornado.


  1. Kaz Gorrie

    Excellent commentary Andy, and your photos tell the story very well. Very scary stuff, to drive around and see the damage. We were very lucky.

  2. Kaz Gorrie

    Quick question Andy. How far along the beach is the “Totem pole” that you have pictured. Access by SH Surf Club end or Beach Road? A friend mentioned the totem pole the other day, would like to wander up and have a look.

  3. Karen

    I need to correct something here. I along with 4 other people were at Lords Ponies on the night this happened. She rents part of the house to my partner, and there are 2 other tenants here also. It’s true the owner was in Sydney with her partner, we rang her after it happened and they drove straight down here.

    The sheds and garage were destroyed, however the house itself suffered only a few broken windows.

      • heather Lord

        the fish on my property were from the ocean. the one I saw near the small dam on my property was mullet like. Black on top, red underneith with a silver stripe along the side.
        the men that removed the metal debris said they saw a tuna on Coolangatta rd. none of my goldfish I use to reduce mossies or my coi were hurt or missing. their hame was destroyed n they now live in a palicon. only one foal was badly hurt but is mending

  4. Lesley

    hanks for your comprehensive documentation of that terrible tornado. We live in Gerroa & it was scarey enough there. Thank God it happened at the time it did as I’m sure that there would have been great loss of human life had it occured during the daytime.

  5. John McCabe

    This happen’s nearly every year in Nth Queensland and I am sorry it happens to you down there. We had four tornado’s hit our coast this year.

  6. paul

    great story but i strongly disagree about your statement about the low not spinning up any swell as i surfed the morning of the event and there was a large ne groundswell of 12ft (quadruple overhead faces) hitting the coast and very powerful and clean not sure what coast you were looking at

    • Andy Hutchinson

      I can only tell you what it looked like on Seven Mile Beach at Shoalhaven Heads. My memories of that day are bit foggier these days, but if it had been clean and surfable on that beach then that’s what I’d have written. 🙂

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