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Imagine being hit by a Category 4 hurricane on Christmas Eve. We are so accustomed to tropical activity during the summer, it's easy to forget that the Southern Hemisphere has a completely different pattern of hurricane development. And for residents of Australia, the Christmas season can sometimes bring the threat of hurricanes.

On December 21st, 1974, a small area of low pressure was monitored closely by meteorologists. Satellite representations improved over the following days, and Tropical Cyclone Tracy was born. By Christmas Eve, winds had increased to Category 4 level strength. Forecasters scrambled to stay ahead of Tracy, but the storm changed direction abruptly and headed for the coast. Pinpointing the exact landfall location was problematic at best.

The biggest issue was the size of the storm. With Tropical Storm-force force winds only extending about 30 miles from the center, Tracy became the smallest tropical system ever recorded. As a result, the landfall location would be a relatively small area. The dividing line between "complete destruction" and "no destruction at all" would be very thin. Unfortunately, the small city of Darwin crossed that line.

With a population of 47,000, Darwin hadn't been hit by a strong storm for nearly two decades. In fact, many residents believed that Cyclone Tracy would pass them by altogether. But as the rains and winds increased on Christmas Eve, it quickly became apparent that Tracy was no "ordinary" storm. At the Darwin Airport, a wind gust of 135 was recorded shortly before the anemometer was destroyed. By the next morning, the damage shocked the nation.

(photo courtesy of the Australian Broadcast Association)

At least 71 people were killed during the storm, and most of the houses in Darwin were destroyed. The outpouring of emotion stirred the national conscience, and the story of Cyclone Tracy is well known throughout Australia even today. To help raise money for relief efforts, popular performers Bill & Boyd wrote/performed the song "Santa Didn't Make It Into Darwin". The title alone tells the story of Tracy better than any statistic ever could.

CHIEF METEOROLOGIST JERRY JACKSON IS NOW ONFACEBOOK! Learn about the "hurricanes" of Saturn, a rare tornado that hit Columbus County in the 1950's, and a little-known experiment conducted by our astronauts on the surface of the moon. So be sure to "like" Jerry on facebook, and post a few weather stories of your own!





By: Jerry Jackson