An active monsoon trough and a slow moving low pressure system over the northern tropics produced extremely heavy rainfall in tropical Queensland from late January 2019 into early February. In and around Townsville, the accumulated totals from consecutive days of heavy rainfall set many new records. In the ten days to 8 February, Townsville Aero recorded 1259.8 mm, far exceeding the January 1953 record of 925.5mm.
There were several sites in nearby elevated areas that reported 12-day rainfall totals of more than 2,000 mm. Moderate to major flooding occurred in coastal communities between Daintree and Mackay, nearly 700 km to the southeast. The Daintree River reached record levels after 500 mm of rain fell in just 48 hours.
The Premier ordered all public schools and childcare centres in Townsville to close on Friday 1 February as the floods continued, with the Bureau of Meteorology predicting heavy rainfall to continue into the weekend. Many schools were closed for several days due to the floods; 12 schools in the Townsville region reopened on 6 February.
The Ross River Dam, about 20km south-west of Townsville’s centre, reached 178 per cent capacity before the spillway gates were opened on 3 February to ease downstream flooding. Water released from the dam exceeded what was usually allowed under Townsville’s emergency action plan but authorities had little choice, with more days of torrential rain forecast.
Flood warnings were issued to residents below the dam and by 5 February, over 1000 people had evacuated the floodplain and thousands of homes were inundated. About 11,300 homes were without power after it was cut to protect the safety of Townsville residents in the rising waters. Many residents attended evacuation centres, with Australian Red Cross providing support.
QFES used multiple communication mediums to disseminate community messaging. The State Disaster Coordination Centre disseminated 78 emergency alert campaigns between 26 January and 11 February, delivering warning messages across broad areas of northern and far northern Queensland. From 25 January to 21 February, the State Emergency Service received 4,900 requests for assistance from the public.
The search for two men missing in Townsville ended on 5 February when their bodies were found in the suburb of Aitkenvale.
To speed up the processing of insurance claims, the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) declared the floods a catastrophe. ICA later received more than 6,500 claims, totalling around $80 million, from flood-affected residents of Townsville alone. Insured losses across parts of Queensland affected by the floods totalled $1.237 billion as at 12 June 2019.