Townsville Flooding

7 February 2019 - Update

The JBA event response team produced an initial report on 4 February with details of the flooding at time of writing (below). This is an event commentary as of 7 February 2019.

Rivers across Queensland continue to carry major flood warnings as record-breaking rainfall exacerbates flooding across the Australian state. JBA has produced an event footprint for one of the worst affected areas, the city of Townsville.

Since the start of the month, over 860mm of rain has fallen at Townsville’s Aero rain gauge, more than twice the average amount for February (Bureau of Meteorology, 2019a). Combined with the final two days of January, the rainfall totals exceed 1,120mm. In the last 48 hours alone, the observation station has recorded over 150mm of rainfall, but forecasts suggest the wet weather will ease in the coming days. However, the prolonged rainfall has exacerbated the flooding caused by officials being forced to open the floodgates of the Ross River Dam on 4 February 2019, effectively releasing eight Olympic swimming pools of water a minute into the city (ABC News, 2019). Moderate flood warnings remain in place on the Ross River, with residents aware that they may still experience flooding due to the rise in water levels.

Elsewhere, the Burdekin River has exceeded major levels several times in the last few days (Figure 1), and on the Upper Burdekin River, a major flood warning is still in place as river levels are expected to exceed 11m on Friday (Bureau of Meteorology, 2019b).

Figure 1: Burdekin River level (m) between 31 January – 7 February at Sellheim gauge. Data source: Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) stated on 5 February that 3,500 claims had been lodged, amounting to AUD $45 million insured losses, but news reports at the time of writing suggest the figures have risen to over 8,000 and AUD $105 million respectively, which could compare to around 40% of the total insured losses from flood reported in 2018 (Insurance Council of Australia, 2019). News reports suggest that of the 1,500 homes assessed so far, 738 are severely damaged and 252 are uninhabitable (ABC News, 2019). Although commercial flood cover has been available for Townsville businesses since 2007, the ICA is concerned that it has not been purchased by a significant number of commercial policyholders.

To help with recovery efforts, the ICA has deployed a disaster recovery team to assist policyholders. Additionally, Queensland Government’s Community Recover Hubs have been set up across Townsville to help residents with emergency housing and support, including accessing mortgage relief and interest-free bond loans. Money is also being raised for residents affected through the Queensland Flood Appeal.

Such schemes will likely be welcomed by residents, as forecasts from the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology suggest showers and thunderstorms may continue across north Queensland for the next few days.

If you are interested in our flood footprint, estimating extents and depths of flooding across Townsville, please get in touch with our event response team.

Original commentary

Properties in the Australian city of Townsville have been flooded following heavy monsoon rains, forcing officials to open the floodgates of the Ross River Dam which reached a record-breaking 213% of its capacity on 4 February 2019 (Townsville City Council, 2019).

The Townsville Aero rainfall station recorded 972.8 mm of rain from 30 January to 4 February, beating the previous record set in January 1998 when 871 mm fell within 5 days (Bureau of Meteorology Australian Government). It was reported that the Ross River Dam would be releasing 1,900 cubic metres of water a second to alleviate water levels in Lake Ross (Bureau of Meteorology).

Figure 1: Water levels at the Ross River Dam show that the Dam is at 213% capacity at 19:00 on 4 February, with a volume of 496,550ML. Source: Townsville City Council.

Two men who were reported missing near floodwaters in the Aitkenvale area on 4 February have now been confirmed dead (The Weekly Times, 2019). With more rainfall on the way, the Bureau of Meteorology have warned of more “risk to life” and “unprecedented flooding” that could inundate 20,000 more homes (Bureau of Meteorology, 2019).

Observations have already shown that this monsoon has surpassed the 1998 rainfall record, an event known locally as the “Night of Noah” when Cyclone Sid passed over the area. Other surrounding areas have also been hit with heavy rain. Cairns recorded a daily rainfall of 277mm, the most rain the city has had in over a decade and ended January with 499% of their average normal rainfall for the month (Accuweather, 2019). The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) has declared a Catastrophe for Townsville insurance policyholders to help escalate the insurance industry’s response, as well as help reduce emotional and financial stress to policyholders (Reinsurance News, 2019). ICA CEO Rob Whelan has stated that 1,900 claims have already been received with “insurance losses estimated at AUD $16.7 million” at the time of writing (Insurance Council of Australia). Many more claims are expected as weather forecasters have warned that periods of heavy rain are expected to continue throughout the week, with gusty thunderstorms also possible.

Figure 2: The graph highlights the difference between the rainfall observed in 1998 and 2019. On 11 January 1998, the station received the most rainfall in a single day ever recorded. However, cumulatively, there has been more rainfall between 30 January and 4 February 2019 over a similar 5-6 day period, with even more rain forecast to come. This persistent and heavy rainfall overburdened the Ross River Dam and with further rainfall forecast, it is likely there will be further flood inundation.

An Overview of Flood Losses in Australia

Over the years, Australia has increasingly developed infrastructure designed to help mitigate and reduce flood risk. In 2018 alone, the total insured losses caused by floods and tropical cyclones has been estimated at AUD $261 million (Insurance Business Australia, 2018). Compared to events in the past, these insured losses are much lower. Normalised loss figures, which represent the potential value of the loss if the event were to reoccur today, shows that Cyclone Dinah (1966) and the Brisbane Flooding (1973) would have a normalised loss value of AUD $4.7 billion and AUD $3.2 billion respectively (ICA Dataglobe, 2017). In comparison, while the full extent of the losses has not been revealed for the Townsville flooding yet, the current estimate of AUD $16.7 million is much lower.

Read our updated event commentary here. If you would like to access our flood event footprint, estimating extents and depths of the flooding in Townsville, please get in touch with our event response team.


Bunch, A. and Wuth, R. 2019. Two bodies found in Townsville floodwaters. Australian Associated Press. Viewed 5 February 2019

Bureau of Meteorology Australian Government. 2019. Weather Update: Flooding around Townsville, Queensland, 4 February 2019. Viewed 4 February 2019

Bureau of Meteorology Australian Government. 2019. Daily Rainfall: Townsville Aero. Viewed 4 February 2019

Eherts, F. and Douty, A. 2019. Australia: Historic flooding to continue, worsen across Queensland this week. Accuweather. Viewed 4 February 2019

Henriques-Gomes, L. 2019. Townsville flooding: boats, helicopters and garbage trucks used in rescues – as it happened. The Guardian. Viewed 4 February 2019

Insurance Council of Australia. 2019. Insurance Council declares catastrophe for Townsville inundation. Viewed 4 February 2019

Insurance Council of Australia. 2018. More than half of Hobart flood and storm claims closed as insurance bill nears $100m. Viewed 4 February 2019

Martin, M. 2018. Australian catastrophe and weather losses hit $261m. Insurance Business Australia. Viewed 4 February 2019

McAneney, J., Sandercock, B., Crompton, R., Musulin, R., Pielke, R. and Gissing, A. 2017. Normalised Australian Insurance Losses from Natural Disasters: 1966-2017. Insurance Council of Australia Dataglobe. Viewed 4 February 2019

Sheehan, M. 2019. Australia’s Townsville flooding declared catastrophe by insurance council. Reinsurance News. Viewed 4 February 2019

Townsville City Council. 2019. Dam Levels: Water Supply & Dams. Viewed 4 February 2019

Updated commentary references

ABC News. 2019. Townsville flood clean-up to begin in earnest as severe weather eases. ABC News. [Online]. 6 February 2019. [Accessed 7 February 2019]. Available from:

Bureau of Meteorology. 2019a. Daily Rainfall - 032040 – Bureau of Meteorology. [Online]. [Accessed 7 February 2019]. Available from:

Bureau of Meteorology. 2019b. Major Flood Warning for the Upper Burdekin River and Moderate Flood Warning for the Lower Burdekin River below Burdekin Falls Dam. [Online]. [Accessed 7 February 2019]. Available from:

Insurance Council of Australia. 2019. Townsville Catastrophe Insurance Claims Rising By The Hour. [Online]. [Accessed 7 February 2019]. Available from: