Lake Macquarie History

Weird weather

It is often said that the weather has become more extreme over recent years. While this may be true, Lake Macquarie has had a long history of extraordinary weather events and other odd natural phenomena.


photo: storm lake macquarie

Our coastal location results in Lake Macquarie being at the mercy of what are now known as ‘East Coast Lows’. These extreme weather systems bring about cyclonic conditions including strong winds and heavy rainfall.

Undoubtedly such storms have been occurring for many years. Richard Fennell, in his letters of 1st May 1865 and 21st July 1867, talks of the floods which decimated NSW in the 1860s and caused widespread flooding and loss of life.

Most recently, Lake Macquarie has been afflicted with traumatic storms on the June Long weekend, 2007 and again in April 2015.

Loss of power, extensive damage to infrastructure and property, disruption of trade and business, and risk to safety characterise these events and result in lengthy clean ups.

Many seagoing vessels have foundered off the coast of Lake Macquarie during storms over the years, and a number of vessels have come to grief trying to enter the Heads at Swansea during the heavy seas and wild weather.

The Lake Macquarie suburb of Catherine Hill Bay was named for a ship which foundered on the beach there in a particularly violent storm in June, 1867.

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photo: flood lake macquarie

Lake Macquarie is approximately 22 kilometres in length and up to 8 kilometres wide, with a shoreline of 170 kilometres. The lake is surrounded by bushland, parkland, and residential developments, and is valued for it's scenic quality as well as its commercial and recreational attributes. The entrance to the Pacific Ocean is by the narrow and shallow 4 kilometre long Swansea Channel. Being a coastal lagoon with much low lying land around the foreshore has meant that elevated ocean levels (high tides and storm surge) as well as intense rainfall over the catchment have always made the lake prone to water rises and shoreline flooding.

The highest recorded lake water level is 1.25 meters above sea level at Marks Point in 1949. The level reached in the June 2007 long weekend storm/flood event was 1.05 meters and the February 1990 flooding saw a rise of 1 meter.

Flooding causes significant hardship to the community and damage to vital infrastructure.

Mentions of severe flooding occur frequently in the letters of Richard Fennell, which were written in the 1840s to 1870s.

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photo: earthquake lake macquarie

At least five earthquakes of magnitude 5 or greater have occurred in the Hunter region since European settlement in 1804. Some of these earthquakes caused damage in areas that, at the time, were sparsely populated. Similar events, were they to occur today in populated areas, would certainly cause significant damage.

The Newcastle 1989 earthquake claimed 13 lives and caused extensive devastation to buildings and other structures. This level of damage was unusually high for such a moderate-magnitude earthquake of 5.6 on the Richter scale .

Although the epicentre of the quake was in Boolaroo - and Lake Macquarie residents most definitely felt the tremors - the most serious damage to buildings was in and around the Newcastle CBD. The severity of damage appears to have been partly due to the age and structural condition of the affected buildings, and Lake Macquarie was largely spared because of our more widespread network of city centres and more recent built environment.

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photo: snow lake macquarie

The weather forecast for Sunday, July 18, 1965, did not mention the possibility of snow falling a few kilometres from Newcastle Post Office. Snowfalls in the Hunter region are usually confined to Barrington Tops and parts of the Upper Hunter.

On that Sunday morning snow not only fell on Mount Sugarloaf but also in some Newcastle and Lake Macquarie suburbs. By sunrise the slopes of Sugarloaf were covered with about 10cm of snow and more than 16cm lay on the hills around Maitland, Cessnock, Singleton, Muswellbrook, Denman, Scone, Aberdeen and Barrington Tops. Near Cessnock the snow also fell at Mount View, Millfield and Quorrobolong. Snow was also reported at New Lambton, Waratah and Windale.

On Mount Sugarloaf children built snowmen and had snow fights. As the news of the snowfall spread hundreds of sightseers made their way up the mountain. By mid-morning the police had to close the road to the summit because of the traffic.

With the snowfalls came strong wind and rain which was welcomed by the Hunter's farmers and graziers, who hoped it would herald the end of a drought that had lasted for 16 months.

Snow again fell on Mount Sugarloaf on Thursday, June 12, 1975.

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Dust Storm

photo: dust storm lake macquarie

Australia is an arid country, and dust storms are not a new or particularly unusual phenomenon in the inland. They are not so prevalent on the coast, however, so when thick red dust blew in to the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie area on 23rd September, 2009, it came as quite a shock.

A combination of factors, including very dry conditions in drought-affected areas, and unstable spring weather patterns, created the dust storm, which reduced visibility to 100 metres.

The event made for many eerily beautiful photographs, and a lot of cleaning up.

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Water Spout

photo: waterspout lake macquarie

Waterspouts are like a tornado over the water, though usually weaker than the land version. Though many waterspouts form in the tropics, they also occur in temperate zones. They are frequently seen off the east coast of Australia, with several described by Joseph Banks during the voyage of the Endeavour in 1770.

While water spouts are often accompanied by storms, this is not always the case.

The water spout pictured above was photographed off Redhead on 9th April 2013 was accompanied by a severe thunderstorm.


photo: bushfire lake macquarie

Bushfires are a recurring feature of our Australian summers, and regularly cause loss and damage to our houses, property and infrastructure. Even on the coastal fringes which are spared the worst of drought conditions, bushfires pose an annual threat.

Although too frequent and numerous to list here, a glance through our historic photographs collection highlights some of the devastation caused by bushfires over the years.

January 1933 saw particularly devastating fires on the western side of the lake which caused destruction of the railway station at Fassifern, and subsequent disruption to the rail network.

More recently, bushfires destroyed land around Catherine Hill Bay in October 2013. The inferno destroyed the town's historic Wallarah House and Jetty Master's Cottage, another house and part of the historic jetty.

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Acknowledgement of Country

We remember and respect the Ancestors who cared for and nurtured this Country. It is in their footsteps that we travel these lands and waters. Lake Macquarie City Council acknowledges the Awabakal people and Elders past, present and future.

Council acknowledges traditional custodians throughout Australia. We commit to listening deeply to and collaborating with First Peoples in our work.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website and Council's cultural collections may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material.

This website may contain place names, opinions and terms that reflect authors' views or those of the period in which the item was written or recorded. These may not be considered appropriate today.

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