A severe weather incident can impact your health, safety and travel plans. This page provides practical advice on what to do if you're overseas and experiencing a severe weather incident, or if one approaches.
It covers practical information and advice on what to do before or during a:
It also lists key severe weather monitoring services around the world, and where you can get help.
This page is for Australians already overseas. If you're planning your trip before you go, see our general advice and information about severe weather.
Cyclones and tornadoes
Cyclones and tornadoes are both severe warm weather events, involving storms.
They're caused by convection currents, air pressure changes, the Earth's spin and warm air rising. Cyclones form over the ocean and tornadoes over land.
Depending on their location and strength, tropical cyclones are called:
- hurricanes (in North America)
- typhoons (in Asia)
- tropical storms
- cyclonic storms
- tropical depressions
Tornadoes are common in North America. Especially the mid-west United States and Canada. They're also called 'twisters'.
Key risks and impacts of cyclones and tornadoes
- 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 impacts people travelling by boat and cruise passengers.
- Storm surges. Cyclones generate storm surges. The sea level can rise 2-5 metres by the beach, like an extreme high tide. Most deaths during a cyclone are from drowning in storm surges (BOM).
- Rain, hail and lightning. Cyclones bring heavy rains and lightning. While tornadoes don't bring rain or lightning, the storm front that caused it may.
The combination of impacts leads to serious property damage, and death. Drowning is the most common cause of death during a cyclone. People also die from collapsed buildings, mudslides and flying debris.
What to do if a cyclone or tornado approaches
If a cyclone, tornado or extreme weather front approaches, you need to make decisions quickly.
Gather as much information about it as you can. Then, you can make informed decisions on what to do.
Don't delay. If you leave it too late, you could get stuck. This is particularly deadly if you're somewhere that can't withstand the extreme forces of a severe weather event.
1. Gather information
Gather as much information about the cyclone, tornado or weather front as you can. Do this quickly. You may not be able to access information later, or act on any new information you get.
Talk to your hotel manager, tour guide or local authorities. Listen to the radio, and watch the news on TV.
- Location and path. Find out where the cyclone, tornado or weather front is now, and where it's going. Understand that precise paths are hard to predict. Even if experts think it will miss your location, you may still be at risk.
- Strength. If it's a cyclone or tornado, find out how powerful it is. Also, find out how powerful it's expected to be when it makes landfall in your location. It may start to weaken on the way, or get stronger.
- Emergency shelters. Find out where your nearest emergency shelter is. It could be purpose-built, or an existing building that's reinforced to handle extreme forces.
2. Decide whether to stay or leave
In many cases, it's up to you if you stay in your destination, or leave.
In other cases, local authorities may issue an official evacuation order. If you're on a cruise, the captain may make the decision for all passengers.
- Official evacuations. If local authorities declare you must leave, then leave. Staying, despite an evacuation order, puts your life at risk. It may be illegal to stay. You may void your travel insurance.
- Boat travel and cruises. The ship's captain is responsible for passenger safety. Follow their instructions. They'll make the decision whether to evacuate passengers to shore, outrun the cyclone or weather the storm.
- Travelling by air. You may have difficulty getting flights before the severe weather incident hits. Strong winds may ground flights, and many airlines will cancel all incoming flights when severe weather approaches. If you intend to fly out, get your tickets quickly or you'll miss out.
- Travelling by land. You may be able to travel by car, bus or train before the severe weather arrives. Be aware, demand for tickets may be high. Get your tickets quickly. Strong winds and rain before an event hits can still pose a safety risk. Especially for smaller, lighter vehicles.
- Travelling by foot. If there's a cyclone or tornado, don't try to evacuate the area by foot. If you're hiking or trekking in the area as it approaches, get to safety quickly. Find somewhere populated, with a shelter, or transport out. Otherwise, find somewhere safe to wait it out, away from large bodies of water.
3. Get to safety if you stay
- Get to an emergency shelter. In most cases, a local emergency shelter is the safest place to be during a cyclone. However, you're most at risk when you're getting to it. Never venture out once a cyclone has already made landfall.
- Get to a sturdier building. If the building you're in isn't built to withstand a cyclone or tornado and you can't make it to a shelter in time, find a sturdier structure. This could be a shopping mall, low rise hotel, hospital or other solid building.
- Avoid bodies of water. In a cyclone, it's usually better to get further away from the shore and on higher ground.
- Shelter in place. If it's too late get somewhere safer, or you're already somewhere built to withstand cyclones or tornadoes, shelter in place.
4. Prepare to shelter in place
- Follow instructions. If possible, follow directions from your hotel manager, tour guide or emergency services. Draw from their experience from past weather events in the area.
- Turn off the gas in a cyclone or tornado. This reduces the risk of fire if severe winds damage the gas pipes.
- Charge your devices. Once the power is cut off, you won't be able to charge them. You may need them to stay informed about the cyclone.
- Get water bottles. Once the cyclone makes landfall, the water may be shut off. You'll need clean drinking water. After a cyclone, water-borne infectious diseases are common.
- Gather supplies. Consider torches, radios, batteries, food and water. You won't be able to venture out for supplies once the cyclone or tornado hits.
- Wear sturdy shoes. Also wear other practical clothing that can help protect you from debris and sharp hazards.
- Close and cover windows. Extreme winds and flying debris often shatter glass. Consider barricading windows with a heavy piece of furniture.
5. Contact your loved ones and insurer
- Contact your family and friends. If they've heard about the cyclone, tornado or severe cold front through the news, they'll fear for your safety. Tell them where you are, and how you are.
- Contact your travel insurer. Most have 24-hour emergency numbers you can call from overseas. Some have online systems to register in an emergency.
6. Stay put
Once you've committed to sheltering in place somewhere safe, stick to it.
Don't go outside. If you change your mind after severe weather hits and decide to venture out, you risk injury or death.
Only venture out when local authorities confirm it's safe to do so. In a cyclone, this may be when you're in the eye of the storm. Or, once it has completely passed.
What do during a cyclone or tornado
- Don't go outside. Even if it looks like it's calming down or passing. Extreme gusts of wind and lightning strikes can occur without warning. Wait until authorities confirm it's safe.
- Stay away from windows. Extreme winds break windows. The shattered glass can seriously injure you.
- Don't use the stove. Even if you have power. A sudden gust that breaks a window could knock your pots off, causing burns or other trauma.
- Don't use fire. Don't use matches, candles, gas lanterns, camp stoves, cigarettes or any flames. Severe winds can damage gas lines. Your flame, even a small one, could ignite it.
- Avoid electrical equipment. This includes plugged in and handheld items. Lightning during any storm may follow the wiring inside a building. You could get electrocuted.
- Stay informed. Listen to local news. If possible, keep a battery powered radio. If you have internet, follow online news from official reporting services.
Severe winter weather
Severe winter weather is a risk for Australians travelling in many countries. In particular, those travelling to cooler parts of North America or Europe between November and March.
Severe winter weather can include:
- heavy snow and snowstorms
- hail or freezing rain
- severe cold snaps
Key impacts and risks of severe winter weather
Severe winter weather can carry different risks to warm weather incidents.
- Hypothermia and frostbite. If exposed to the cold, travellers are at risk of hypothermia and frostbite.
- Snow and ice. Snow can block roads and runways. Ice, including black ice, can make them deadly.
- Visibility. Blizzards can reduce or eliminate visibility.
For more information, read about snowstorms and extreme cold (US Department of Homeland Security).
To monitor weather conditions in Europe, visit MeteoAlarm (European Meteorological Service).
To monitor airport conditions in North America, visit the Federal Aviation Administration website (US Government).
What to do when an extreme cold front approaches
- Stock up on supplies. Get enough food and purified water. You may not be able to go outside or use the roads when the cold front arrives.
- Get the right equipment. Make sure you have the right equipment in your accommodation and car to stay safe and warm if you get stuck.
- Keep your accommodation warm. Even when you're not in it. It's important to ensure the inside temperature never drops below freezing. If water freezes in pipes, they may burst.
- Get warm clothes. Ensure you've got the right gear, even if you don't plan to venture out during the storm. If your heating fails, you'll need to layer up to prevent hypothermia and frostbite.
Learn more about preparing for extreme cold weather (US National Weather Service).
What to do during a severe winter weather incident
- Don't go outside. Unless you absolutely must. Wait until the extreme cold front passes, and authorities have deemed it safe to go out.
- Avoid travelling by road. Visibility may reduce while you're out. The road may be blocked by snow. You could get stuck. If the road is icy, your vehicle could lose control.
- Stay warm and dry. Especially in severe winter weather. Prevent hypothermia and frostbite. Ensure the place is warm enough to prevent water from freezing in the pipes and bursting them.
Severe weather reporting services worldwide
Stay informed about the severe weather event. Before, during and after. Closely monitor the local media.
The global authority on severe weather reporting is the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Many countries share services with others in the region.
Tornado reporting services
Severe winter weather reporting services
- MeteoAlarm (Europe)
- National Weather Service (United States)
- Federal Aviation Administration (United States)
Cyclone reporting services
Northern Pacific Ocean
- National Hurricane Center (North east)
- Central Pacific Hurricane Center (north central)
- Japan Meteorological Agency (North west)
- India Meteorological Department (North)
- Meteo-France (South west)
- Australian Bureau of Meteorology (South east)
South and south-west Pacific Ocean
- The Fiji Meteorological Service
- Meteorological Service of New Zealand
- Papua New Guinea National Weather Service
- Meteo-France in French Polynesia
- Australian Bureau of Meteorology
- Joint Typhoon Warning Center
Where to get help
If there's a crisis in or near your location, you have help options in your destination and from back home.
In some circumstances, the Australian Government may be able to help. In most cases, you'll need to exhaust all other avenues before seeking emergency consular assistance.
Understand our limits. Read the Consular Services Charter.
Seek help from local authorities first. Emergency services in most destinations have processes in place for severe weather incidents.
See 'local contacts' in the travel advisory for your destination.
Family and friends
Reach out to your family and friends and ask for help. Especially if you need money. Or if you need someone to help coordinate flights out.
Contact your travel insurer. If you can't find their emergency number, look them up on Find an Insurer (Insurance council of Australia).
How the Australian Government can help
The Australian Government may be able to help. However, we're limited how and when we may support Australians overseas.
In many cases, you'll need to exhaust all other support options first.
For emergency consular assistance:
- contact the nearest Australian embassy or consulate
- phone the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre (CEC) on +61 2 6261 3305
- SMS the CEC on +61 421 269 080
- use the emergency contact form on Smartraveller if a crisis response is activated
It's important you understand our limits, especially in a crisis. Read the Consular Services Charter.
What we can do
- We can choose to initiate a crisis response when we know Australians are, or could be, affected.
- We can provide emergency consular assistance.
- We can contact your relatives or friends, with your consent
- We can give you a list of local hospitals with doctors who speak English if you need medical assistance.
- We can help you replace a lost or water damaged passport.
- We can help keep you informed about the crisis in your destination, if you subscribed.
What we can't do
- We can't guarantee your safety during a severe weather incident.
- We can't shelter travellers in the embassy or consulate. You must find an emergency shelter.
- We can't give you legal or medical advice.
- We can't make decisions for you, or make you leave a country.
- We can't make your travel arrangements, or help you evacuate.
- In some extreme weather events overseas, we may initiate a crisis response.
- Understand how and when we can 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).