Queensland & New South Wales 2013

Cyclone Oswald

Quick Statistics

6 Fatalities
$1.10 billion Insurance Costs

Tropical Cyclone Oswald formed in the Gulf of Carpentaria on 21 January 2013. It made landfall at night between Kowanyama,and Pormpuraaw on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula, as a weak category one system with winds up to 100 km per hour. The following morning, as the cyclone moved inland it was downgraded to a tropical low system. The low moved toward the east coast, near Cooktown on 23 January and then tracked slowly to the south-south-east just inland from the coast, impacting areas near Townsville on 24 January. The weather system stalled over the St. Lawrence-Rockhampton area on the 25th and 26th, and then tracked south to near Dalby west of Brisbane on the 28th, finally accelerating in a southerly direction eventually moving offshore south of Sydney on 29 January.

The ex-tropical cyclone brought with it a heavy monsoonal rainfall system that lasted for approximately one week. Most of the eastern areas of Queensland, and the coast of New South Wales ending in the Wollongong area experienced very heavy rainfall during the period from 22 to 29 January 2013. On 25 January, areas around Rockhampton recorded rainfall for a 24 hour period in excess of 300 mm. Rainfall for the areas between Rockhampton and Bundaberg alone were heavy enough to break the January monthly rainfall records. On 28 January, the most extreme daily rainfall for the week occurred over the Gold Coast Hinterland and New South Wales border catchment and the edge of the Brisbane river catchment where rainfall for a 24 hour period was in excess of 700 mm both hitting record levels. The Queensland State Emergency Service received 1800 calls for help in 24 hours on the 28 January, mostly in the south-east areas of the state.

Six people were killed due to the extreme weather over the course of the week. Thousands were forced to evacuate, 2000 people were isolated by floodwaters for some days requiring emergency supply drops. Approximately 40 water rescues took place by State Emergency Service volunteers.

Key infrastructure was damaged and destroyed, estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The rail service was closed between Cairns and Townsville, the Weipa port shut down for several days, airlines cancelled many domestic flights between New South Wales and Queensland, travellers were stranded as they tried to return home after the long weekend, 200 schools were closed on the first day of school for the year and the worst ever power outages occurred in Queensland affecting 283,000 properties.

On 27 January, the system moved south impacting Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast with damaging to destructive winds, torrential rain, dangerous surf and tidal inundation for a 24 hour period. Winds reached 131 km per hour at Cape Byron. Mt Crosby water treatment plant was shut down owing to turbidity in the Brisbane River. Water was released from the Wivenhoe dam from 91per cent to 88 per cent to cope with flood waters. Water was also released from North Pine Dam and Somerset Dam.

Torrential rainfall and flooding also occurred in northern New South Wales particularly near Lismore and Grafton where approximately 2000 evacuations occurred. The New South Wales State Emergency Service attended to more than 2900 calls for assistance Eight New South Wales river systems had flood warnings in place. Coastal erosion of beaches was evidenced in these regions along with sea foam covering some roads and parks on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.

Overall, Bundaberg was the worst affected city with 2000 homes and 200 businesses inundated with flood water. The Burnett river was running at approximately 70 km per hour and threatening houses. Despite a mandatory evacuation order issued to 5000 residents, an emergency airlift was the only option for some stranded residents. Eighteen helicopters were utilised in a rescue effort evacuating more than 1000 people trapped by flood waters in North Bundaberg and other most-at-risk areas to at least nine evacuation centres which was a record evacuation effort in Australia. The Bundaberg hospital was also evacuated and approximately 130 patients were transferred to hospitals in Brisbane.

On 31 January, in North Bundaberg, approximately 7000 residents were forced out of their homes and not allowed to return until they were checked and declared safe. Defence personnel, 180 in total, went house to house within an exclusion zone, conducting search and rescue operations. Defence personnel also helped to repair damaged infrastructure and clean people's homes as part of the initial recovery operation.

Financial assistance and grants were made available to eligible Queensland flood victims, including:

  • Queensland Floods Appeal 2013 payments
  • Emergent Assistance Grant
  • Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment (AGDRP)
  • Essential Services Safety and Reconnection Grant.

The Queensland government also provided financial help and support services to business owners and primary producers such as low interest loans and clean up and recovery grants. Other assistance included freight subsidies, Individual Disaster Stricken Property (IDSP) declarations and leasehold rent relief.

The Federal Attorney-General announced flood and storm victims, employees, small business persons and farmers could apply for the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payments:

  • New South Wales payments totalled $17,100,000
  • Queensland payments totalled $140,270,000


Natural disaster relief and recovery arrangements were provided as a joint commonwealth and state / territory government initiative for local government areas.

The Insurance Council of Australia estimated the January 2013 damage at $121 million for New South Wales and $977 million for Queensland.

Information sources

ABC News, ‘Blanket of mud revealed in Rockhampton’, 5 February 2013, website viewed 7 February 2013
ABC News, ‘Brisbane averts water treatment crisis’, 31 January 2013, website viewed 31 January 2013
ABC News, ‘Farm laments flood deaths’, 31 January 2013, website viewed 31 January 2013
ABC News, ‘Rockhampton flood impact revised down’, 31 January 2013, website viewed 31 January 2013
Bureau of Meteorology, ‘ New South Wales warnings summary’, 29 January 2013, website viewed 29 January 2013
Climate Commission, ‘Key facts of the Angry Summer’, website viewed 6 March 2013
Courier Mail, ‘Rush to secure properties in southeast Queensland as floods set to peak’, 29 January 2013, website viewed 29 January 2013
Courier Mail, ‘As Bundaberg is swamped, Brisbane’s taps may run dry’, 30 January 2013, website viewed 30 January 2013
Courier Mail, ‘Brisbane and southeast face localised flooding over weekend with potential for 300mm to fall before Monday’, 25 January 2013, website viewed 25 January 2013
Courier Mail, 'Ex-cycone Oswald heads south with heavy rain tipped for long weekend’, 24 January 2013, website viewed 24 January 2013
Courier Mail, ‘Far North Queensland drenched by ex-tropical cyclone Oswald, with 334mm of rain in Tully overnight’, 23 January 2013, website viewed 23 January 2013
Courier Mail, ‘Queensland’s north braces for flash floods after Oswald’s low blow’, 22 January 2013, website viewed 22 January 2013
Courier Mail, ‘Premier Campbell Newman aims to flood-proof towns in wake of Queensland flood crisis’, 1 February 2013, website viewed 1 February 2013
Disaster Assist, ‘Direct Australian Government disaster payments, Expenditure @ 7 September 2013’, website viewed 22 January 2015
Insurance Council of Australia, 2013, Insurance Council declares catastrophe for storm-affected NSW regions; QLD update, media release, 29 January, website viewed 29 January 2013
Insurance Council of Australia, 2013, Assessors entering flood-affected towns, media release, 30 January, website viewed 1 February 2013
Insurance Council of Australia, Disaster Statistics, 2013, website viewed 7 March 2013
News.com, ‘Ex-cyclone could re-form off Qld: forecast’ 24 January 2013, website viewed 24 January 2013
Nicholls T, (Queensland Treasurer and Minister for Trade) 2013, Further flood assistance for primary producers and businesses, media release,16 February, website viewed 27 February 2013
Queensland Government, Flooding caused by ex-tropical cyclone Oswald, 12 February 2013, website viewed 7 March 2013
Seqwater, Dam release information, Media update – Seqwater Flood Operations Centre, 26 January 2013, website viewed 13 March 2013
Sydney Morning Herald, ‘The worst of it is over: O’Farrell says river at Grafton is going down’, 29 January 2013, website viewed 30 January 2013
Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Three held for looting as floods toll rises’, 31 January 2013, website viewed 31 January 2013
The Age, ‘Areas of Sydney flooded by heaviest rainfall in a decade’, 29 January 2013, website viewed 29 January 2013
The Age, ‘Fears QLD flood death toll will climb’, 30 January 2013, website viewed 30 January 2013
The Australian, ‘Choppers only escape from torrent in Bundaberg,’ January 2013, website viewed 29 January 2013
The Australian, ‘Floods crisis – a compilation of stories from the newspaper’, 30 January 2013, website viewed 30 January 2013
The Australian, ‘Northern NSW towns at the mercy of breakneck floods’, 30 January 2013, website viewed 31 January 2013
The Daily Examiner, ‘ Insurance claims already total $71 million’, 29 January 2013, website viewed 30 January 2013
The Telegraph, ‘Body of fifth victim found as Queensland’s flood recovery begins’, 30 January 2013, website viewed 30 January 2013
The Telegraph, ‘Floods, fires hold states under siege’, 29 January 2013, website viewed 29 January 2013
The Telegraph, ‘Storm whips up foam on the Gold Coast’, 29 January 2013, website viewed 30 January 2013