Severe weather: Hurricanes, cyclones, typhoons, tornadoes and flooding
Cyclones, hurricanes, typhoons, monsoons and tornadoes are serious risks in some destinations. In others, it's severe winter weather you need to prepare for.
If you're travelling somewhere that experiences severe weather, be prepared and be informed. Before you go, know how to stay safe and avoid danger.
Explore this page to learn about:
- extreme winter weather
- reducing risks when travelling to locations where severe weather occurs
- how to get help in the event of severe weather
Cyclones are powerful tropical storms that form over oceans. They travel along a path, often making landfall in populated areas along the coast.
They're caused by convection currents, air pressure changes, the Earth's spin and warm air rising.
- Extreme high winds. Cyclones can produce gusts over 90 km/h in the centre, and up to 280 km/h towards the outer edge. Tornado winds can exceed 300 km/h. High winds cause extensive property damage, and turn debris into dangerous projectiles that can kill.
- Flooding. Cyclones bring heavy rains that cause floods and storm tides. Tornadoes don't bring rain, though the severe storm that develops them usually does. Rain causes further property damage, and increases the risk of drowning.
- Huge swells and waves. Cyclones cause huge seas. This puts vessels in danger, both in harbour and at sea. It affects people travelling by boat and cruise passengers.
- Storm surges. Cyclones generate storm surges. The sea level can raise 2-5 metres by the beach, like an extreme high tide. Most deaths during a cyclone are from drowning in storm surges (BOM).
- Heavy rain. Cyclones bring torrential rains and lighting. Rains can flood houses and basements, and cause river banks to burst
- Lightning. The severe storm front can generate lightning. This is a risk outside, and inside. It may hit power lines outside and follow the wires to appliances inside.
The combination of impacts leads to serious property damage, and sometimes death. Drowning is the most common cause of death during a cyclone. People also die from collapsed buildings, mudslides and flying debris.
Where and when to expect cyclones
Typically, most cyclones form in warmer months in tropical climates. They form over the ocean, and affect coastal areas. There are 7 cyclone 'basins' across the world:
- North Atlantic
- Eastern Pacific
- Western Pacific
- North Indian Ocean
- South-west Indian Ocean
- Australian region
- South Pacific
You can still safely travel to an at-risk destination during cyclone season. Just take steps to reduce the likelihood of being there when a cyclone hits. And, know what to do if you're there when one does.
Before you go, check if your destination experiences cyclones. And when.
North Atlantic Basin
Hurricanes in the North Atlantic cyclone basin usually form between June and November each year.
Areas commonly affected include:
- the east coast of the United States
- the south-east coast of Canada
- the east coast of Mexico
- Caribbean sea countries, including Cuba
- the Macaronesian islands
Eastern Pacific basin
Cyclones in the north-eastern Pacific Ocean basin usually form between May and November.
Areas commonly affected include:
Western Pacific Basin
Cyclones in the north-western Pacific Ocean basin usually form between April and January. In this region, they're often called typhoons.
Areas commonly affected include:
There are other areas affected by Pacific Cyclones, though usually less often and to a lesser degree. These include Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
North Indian Ocean Basin
Cyclones in the northern Indian Ocean basin usually form between April and December
Cyclones that form in the northern Indian Ocean can affect:
While cyclones rarely make landfall in the most northern parts, it's still a risk. These areas can also experience severe tropical storms and monsoons.
South-West Indian Ocean basin
Cyclones in the southern Indian Ocean usually form between October and May.
Cyclones near Australia also affect our nearest neighbours. This includes:
South Pacific basin
Cyclones in the southern Pacific basin usually form between October and May.
All islands in the South Pacific are affected by cyclones. Aside from Australia, these include:
Cyclone information, monitoring and reporting
The global authority on severe weather reporting is the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The WMO is an agency of the United nations (UN).
Many countries share services with others in the region.
- National Hurricane Center (US Government)
- Japan Meteorological Agency (Japanese Government)
- Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (Intergovernmental)
- India Meteorological Department (Indian Government)
- Joint Typhoon Warning Center (US Government)
- Meteo-France (French Government)
- Australian Bureau of Meteorology (Australian Government)
- The Fiji Meteorological Service (Fiji Government)
- Meteorological Service of New Zealand (MetService)
- Papua New Guinea National Weather Service (PNG Government)
- Meteo-France in French Polynesia (French Government)
A tornado, also called a 'twister', is a violent column of air between the ground and a thunder cloud.
Most are measured on the Fujita Scale. F1 is low intensity and F5 is extreme. The Fujita Scale considers both wind speed and damage.
- Extreme winds. Wind speeds range from 100 km/h (F1) to over 300 km/h (F5).
- Injuries and deaths. Most injuries and deaths are from flying debris. To reduce your risk, stay indoors, especially in a basement or purpose built shelter.
- Property damage. The most severe property damage is to buildings and vehicles directly in its path. Even an F1 or F2 tornado can tear the roof off a sturdy home.
- Lightning. Severe electrical storms often accompany tornadoes.
- Severe rain and flooding. The storm front that generates the tornado often brings torrential rain. Severe rain and flooding increases the risk of drowning.
- Unpredictable path. Tornadoes are unpredictable. It's very difficult for experts to determine their path. They change direction quickly, and often.
Where and when tornadoes are common
Most tornadoes occur during summer, or late spring. They usually form during a severe thunderstorm. Most form over land. Some form over water, in which case they're often called 'waterspouts'.
Tornadoes in the United States
The United States (US) is the destination hardest hit by tornadoes. Most occur in the northern parts of 'Tornado Alley'. This stretches from northern Texas up through Oklahoma, Kansas, eastern Colorado and Nebraska.
It also includes some southern states bordering these. This includes Missouri, Iowa, and Louisiana. This area is sometimes called 'Dixie Alley'. While less frequent in the south, the impact of tornadoes is often greater, especially in lower socio-economic areas.
For current tornado and thunderstorm risks, see the Storm Prediction Centre (US National Weather Service).
Tornadoes around the world
Other destinations that experience frequent and intense tornadoes are:
Some other countries also experience tornadoes, though less frequent and intense. This includes New Zealand, United Kingdom, South Africa and parts of Europe.
Tornado information, monitoring and reporting
- US National Weather Service (US Government).
- US National Severe Storms Laboratory Tornado Forecasting (US Government)
- European extreme weather warnings on Meteoalarm (The Network of European Meteorological services)
- Severe Weather Information Centre (World Meteorological Organization, WMO).
Severe winter weather
Some destinations experience severe winter weather. This not only affects flights, it can lead to hypothermia, frostbite and death.
Severe winter weather basics
Severe winter weather can include extreme cold, heavy snow, blizzards, freezing rain and whiteouts. Aside from impacting air travel and road travel, it can bring serious health and safety risks if you're not prepared.
- Extreme cold. In winter, many destinations experience average temperatures below -20 C. Even in well populated cities of Northern Europe and North America. Cold snaps combined with wind-chill factors can push this below -40 C.
- Hypothermia and frostbite. If exposed to extreme cold, travellers are at of risk of frostbite and hypothermia (Victorian Government). Even a few minutes of exposure can lead to gangrene or death.
- Heavy snow. Great for snow sports, not for getting around. Heavy snow can block roads and runways for hours or days. If not cleared quickly enough, it can also trap people in cars and buildings.
- Ice. Ice makes walkways, stairs, roads and runways hazardous. On foot, it's easy to slip over. Even when wearing practical boots. Car accidents are common, especially from black ice. Planes can't land on icy runways.
- Visibility. Blizzards can reduce or eliminate visibility. This is more often an issue for skiers and snowboarders who get stuck in a whiteout. It also impacts those driving. If you can't even see a few metres ahead, you could get lost. Or have an accident.
Destinations where severe winter weather is common
Typically, destinations further from the equator and at higher altitudes experience more extreme cold weather events.
- United States. Especially in the northern states like Washington, North Dakota, Michigan, New York and Alaska. Also in more mountainous areas of southern states. This includes California and Utah.
- Canada. Most Canadian provinces experience extreme cold weather in January and February. Average minimum temperatures in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec often fall below -10 C.
Russia experiences the most extreme cold weather in Europe. In both major cities, and in mountainous areas.
Other parts of Europe don't experience the same extreme cold as Russia or North America. However, many experience heavy snow, blizzards and ice storms. This includes :
Other parts of the world
Many mountainous areas around the world experience severe winter weather. Even in destinations in typically warmer climates.
In South America, many areas along the Andes mountain range can experience heavy snow, cold snaps and blizzards. As do low-lying areas further south. This includes:
Reducing risks and issues from any severe weather event
If you choose to travel to a destination during a season when severe weather is likely, be prepared. Gather information, be informed and be prepared. Before you go
- Read the travel advice. See our advice for your destination. Check the natural disasters section for information specific to your destination.
- Subscribe for updates. Subscribe to get an email when we update the travel advice for your destination. If you get a local SIM card over there, remember to update your number. Otherwise you'll miss out on our SMS critical alerts in a crisis.
- Get travel insurance. Make sure your insurance policy covers you for cancellations, or changes, if severe weather hits before you go. Also check you're covered if there's severe weather while you're away.
- Pack appropriately. Be prepared for severe weather or natural disaster. One of the smartest things you can pack is a compact wind-up or battery operated radio and torch. When power and communication networks fail, you and others will depend on it for critical updates.
- Watch the weather. Keep up to date with the local weather before you go. And while you're away. Pay particular attention to cyclone and other disaster warnings and reports in the region.
The Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS) reports on cyclones, floods and other natural disasters worldwide. See current disaster alerts (GDACS).
How to get help overseas if there's a severe weather event
- Local emergency services. They're the experts on what to do in an emergency in your destination. We publish local contact numbers in the travel advisory for each destination.
- Hospital. If you or a travel companion get frostbite or hypothermia, get medical assistance as soon as possible. You must deal with it quickly, and correctly to prevent gangrene, shock and/or death.
- Hotel manager or tour guide. They may know what to do, where to go for safety and where you can get help locally.
- Travel companions. Look after each other. Help them if they're in need.
- Friends and family back home. They may not be able to help you on the ground, however may help in other ways. They could help change your travel plans, talk to your insurer or send you money.
- Travel insurance. Most insurers have 24-hour emergency hotlines you can call from overseas. If you're covered, they may provide logistical support, as well as financial.
In some circumstances, the Australian Government may be able to help. However, we're limited in how and when we may provide consular assistance.
In most cases, you need to exhaust all other avenues first. This includes trying to help yourself.
Understand our limits. Before you go, read the Consular Service Charter.
- If you're already travelling and need help, see what to do if there's a severe weather incident overseas.
- In some extreme weather events overseas, we may initiate a crisis response. This could include activating a crisis page and an emergency contact form.
- Understand how and when we may help. Read the Consular Services Charter.
- Learn more about cyclones (Geoscience Australia).
- Learn more about tornadoes, and see the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) Cyclone Knowledge Centre.
- The global authority on severe weather reporting is the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
- Learn about current disasters, from the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS).
- See tips on how to stay safe in extreme cold (Consumer Reports).
- Learn more about how to stay safe indoors during a winter storm (US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention).
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