Sunday 13 April, Cairns.

Cyclone Ita hit Lizard Island directly at about 6.30 pm on Friday 11 April. Bureau of Meteorology models predicted it was at the most severe category 5 as it approached the island and started to lose power as it departed. It crossed the coast at 10 pm at Cape Flattery, about 20 nautical miles from Lizard Island, at category 4.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science maintains a set of monitoring buoys and poles at Lizard Island that transmitted data until 8.50 pm before failing. They clearly show the eye of the cyclone passing – dead calm for between 10 and 30 minutes and a rapid shift of wind direction. Before the eye passed, maximum wind speed recorded was 135 km/h from the ESE and afterwards it was 158 km/h from the NNE, swinging rapidly through north to NNW when the system ceased transmitting. These wind speeds are substantially lower than the BOM predictions.

By Tuesday 8 April it was clear that a severe cyclone was on its way and we began to make plans. There were 27 people at LIRS that day with 16 more due to arrive in the next few days. We immediately put off the people who were planning to arrive and made arrangements for the researchers to leave – the Lizard Island Resort provided wonderful assistance with that. People started to pack up their research gear and personal things.

Wednesday was a full-on day of packing up and departures. Planes were leaving all day, evacuating the resort and LIRS researchers. We are very grateful for the calm way that everyone reacted and for the enormous amount of help that they gave us. Their research programs have suffered badly.

Lizard Island
Aerial view of Australian Museum Research Station & Blue Lagoon Image: Charlie Shuetrim
© Charlie Shuetrim

The only people left at LIRS on Wednesday night were LIRS staff (me, Lyle, Bruce and Cassy) and our son Alex. We had arranged a charter flight for midday on Thursday so we had more time to prepare the station for the impact. Also still on the island were several resort staff and the crew of a yacht that was unable to out run the cyclone. Those people departed on a flight early on Thursday morning.

The charter company requested that we leave an hour earlier than planned because the forecast was deteriorating rapidly. It was a surreal departure in normal weather (sunny and windy) with knowledge of a fierce cyclone on its way and no one but us on the island.

Since then, we’ve been sitting in Cairns checking the weather way too frequently. It feels like a week but it’s only day 3. The cyclone was a non-event in Cairns last night when it passed just to the west at category 1. Today is the first day it is possible to get out to Lizard but that can only be by helicopter as the state of the airstrip is unknown.

Thanks for everyone’s concern and we hope to be able to update you again soon.