This article is intended as a general guide only. You should consult your state fire and emergency services for further information. 

Tropical cyclones can cause flooding, destructive winds and storm surges so having a plan and understanding safety procedures are vital to ensure you and your family are safe during a cyclone.

Cyclones are characterised by swirling winds with gusts exceeding 90 kilometres per hour. They are low pressure systems that form when the sea surface temperature exceeds 26°Celsius. Cyclones mainly affect locations from northern Western Australia to northeast Queensland, according to Geoscience Australia.

Cyclone alerts

Tropical cyclone advice is issued when wind gust speeds are likely to exceed 62 kilometres per hour, with warnings delivered when the onset of gale force winds are expected within 24 hours, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) explains.

These alerts, which are issued by the BOM via radio, television, websites and local emergency services, advise the intensity of the cyclone on a scale of one to five, its range and movement, the force of the winds and the maximum gusts expected. The wind speed dictates the level of risk.

Cyclone categories and their risks

Category 1  125kph gusts cause minimal house or caravan damage, vessels drag on moorings and may also damage crops and trees
Category 2  125-164kph gusts can cause significant damage to signs, trees, dwellings including caravans, and crops, and small water craft may break their moorings. There is also a risk of power failure
Category 3  165-224kph wind speed likely means power failure and roof or structural damage
Category 4  225-279kph brings significant roofing and structural damage, with dangerous airborne debris and widespread power failures. Caravans may be destroyed or blown away
Category 5  280kph gusts are extremely dangerous and cause widespread destruction.

Sheltering at home

Don’t go outside during a cyclone. Instead stay indoors and take shelter, state emergency services advise. When sheltering at home, do the following:

  • Turn off electricity, gas and water, and unplug appliances.
  • Gather your family in the strongest part of the house, clear of any windows, such as the basement, bathroom, toilet room or hallway.
  • Keep your emergency kit with you.
  • Check your portable battery operated radio or the internet if possible for status updates or new directives.
  • If your house starts breaking up, anchor yourself to a strong fixture such as a water pipe or get under a solid table or bed and protect yourself with a mattress, tarpaulin or blankets.

"Remember that human life cannot be replaced," says David Kneipp, QBE’s National Relationship Manager, Claims. "If you are unsure about your safety, head to the local emergency shelter if there’s still time. Contact the SES on national phone number 132 500 or the Red Cross if you don’t know where your local emergency shelter is."

If you have been ordered to relocate go to a public shelter or friends or family on higher ground. This is when a pre-prepared evacuation plan is needed, check our guide to preparing for a cyclone. You need to know your destination, the safest route and have your car fuelled and pre-packed with essentials, the BOM advises.

If you leave

Emergency checklist

  • Make sure everyone is wearing sturdy shoes and suitable clothing
  • Is everyone present and accounted for? If someone is not home, they should not attempt to return during the cyclone.
  • If you can’t take your pets leave them untied, with food and water, in a safe place such as a garage or laundry
  • Take your emergency survival kit 
  • Close all windows lock doors
  • Check your neighbours know about the alert
  • Follow your evacuation plan 
  • If you are driving, stop somewhere clear of water courses, trees and power lines and remain in the vehicle with the handbrake on.

Beware the eye of the cyclone

A unique feature of cyclones is their storm's eye, the epicentre around which the winds rotate. The eye is eerily calm, however, as the cyclone moves along its path the destructive winds return, this time blowing in the opposite direction. 

"Do not go out of doors during the cyclone," David Kneipp, QBE’s National Relationship Manager Claims, warns. "Be careful if there seems to be a sudden lull in the winds – that may be the eye of the cyclone passing. What comes after is often worse, so don’t get caught outside."

After the cyclone has passed wait for official all clear before venturing outside or attempting to return to your home, the Department of Emergency Services warns.