Australia Weather News

Colin Carthew and daughter Sophia with the family's converted emergency preparation bus. - ABC

As the Bureau of Meteorology warns of an increased number of cyclones this season, there is one Darwin family which is ready for whatever emergency nature throws at them.

Colin Carthew, 52, bought a former school bus for $600 and converted it into a cyclone survival vehicle for his family.

He has stocked the bus, and the tradie trailer, with hunting equipment, tools, camping gear, a survival library, power sources, water, and emergency communication devices … and a colouring-in station for his eight-year-old daughter, Sophia.

Mr Carthew said he had prepared the family's survival bus for them to feel fully prepared in the occurrence of a severe tropical cyclone.

"The best place to be in a cyclone is not in it," he said.

"Darwin might not be here in six weeks' time, you don't know — if a category five [cyclone] hits Darwin, it could be catastrophic."

During a category five cyclone wind gusts can exceed 280 kilometres per hour, causing widespread destruction, power failures, and flooding.

Mr Carthew said the fully fitted-out bus gave his family an evacuation plan if a severe cyclone was approaching.

"There is one road in here. There's one rail. There's one airport," Mr Carthew said.

"The corner shop that sells you the food won't be there anymore."

'The cyclone was coming straight for us'

Mr Carthew, his partner, and their daughter also use the bus for camping trips during the Top End's dry season and have already been for stints out bush during this past wet season as a trial run.

Two cyclones to hit Darwin in the last decade have caused different kinds of damage.

Tropical Cyclone Grant dumped hundreds of millimetres of rain on the Top End during the Christmas holidays in 2011.

Entire towns were flooded, and a 20-carriage freight train dramatically derailed as the Edith River washed away the rail line and damaged the rail bridge.

It was the first time the Carthews' bus was used for emergency purposes and they travelled 300km south-east to a campground in the Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge).

"We evacuated out of Darwin and went down to Edith Falls," Mr Carthews said.

"It started raining really heavily and we got away from the river, went down to the campsite and said to the lady running the kiosk, 'Is the highway still open? What's the story?'

"She's like, 'Yeah, that's all good. It's fine'."

With the rainfall increasing in intensity the family no longer felt safe to stay at Edith Falls.

"So, we bailed out … [and] checked the internet and the cyclone was coming straight for us," Mr Carthews said.

"We came back to Darwin and it was a beautiful, sunny day.

"And it was that night that the kiosk [washed away], the road got washed out, the train went off the bridge."

Two times lucky

Mr Carthew's intuition also came in handy when Tropical Cyclone Marcus flattened trees and mangled power lines in Darwin in 2018.

The family evacuated the city in their bus and hunkered down in Robin Falls, 100km to the south.

"The second day it started raining really heavily," he said.

"I climbed up the cliff and opened up the laptop and checked out the weather and it [the cyclone] was coming.

"So, we stayed with a friend … and it hit that afternoon in Darwin.

"You could see it on the internet. The BOM [Bureau of Meteorology] radar was circling around Darwin — it was pretty scary."

The destruction of the category 2 tropical cyclone was so severe that 25,000 homes lost power and the city's water supply was contaminated due to damage to infrastructure.

"We phoned Darwin after it had passed and a friend said, 'Don't bother coming back because the trees are down, there's no power, there's no water'," Mr Carthew said.

"So we went camping for about another three days and then came back in town."

Disaster bus provides 'comfort'

The BOM is tipping a busy cyclone season as La Niña has come to town.

The outlook suggests a 66 per cent chance of more cyclones than average for the Australian region this season, and the weather systems are expected to form earlier than normal.

BOM climatologist Greg Browning said the Top End's first cyclone and monsoon were expected a few weeks ahead of usual — which was typically January.

"We generally see more cyclones during La Niña years than non-La Niña years," he said.

But, you can count on Mr Carthew to be ready for anything the weather can throw at him thanks to his disaster bus.

"We can sit in bed and watch movies while it's flooding outside," he said.

"I've tried to set it up so that we can live off-grid, and with as much comfort and ease as possible."