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Cyclone Marcus: Curious Darwin answers your weird and wonderful questions about the storm

By Jacqueline Breen, Neda Vanovac, and Shahni Wellington, Wednesday March 21, 2018 - 16:39 EDT
ABC image
A resident surveys the damage caused by Cyclone Marcus to his street in Coconut Grove. - ABC

Top Enders have survived the most damaging storm to hit the Darwin region since Cyclone Tracy flattened it over 40 years ago.

You've all been inundated with information from authorities and emergency services as you've waited for schools to reopen, power to come back on, and water to be declared safe to drink.

But you've had other questions about the storm, so we've tried to answer some of them.

 is an ongoing series where you ask the questions, and journalists from the ABC Darwin newsroom work with you to find the answer.

We'll also post the results on  and Twitter.

Have you got another question you'd like us to look into? Or would you like to vote on our current round? Make sure you do so at the bottom of this story!

Why was the Cyclone called Marcus?

"Marcus" was next on the .

It works through the alphabet five times, alternating between male and female names, .



Cyclones had until then generally had female names. Male names were added to the list in 1975 after Cyclone Tracy — during International Women's Year — when then Australian Science minister Bill Morrison reportedly declared that both sexes "should bear the odium of the devastation caused by cyclones".

It was a colourful Australian meteorologist, Clement Wragge, who pioneered the practice of naming cyclones in the 1890s.

He used names from Greek and Roman mythology and, as the story goes, also some politicians that he didn't like, including Australia's first prime minister, Edmund Barton.

Cyclone naming became routine in the US in the 1950s to avoid confusion when big storms hit around the same time.

These days, the bureau avoids the names of public figures, perhaps so people focus on finding shelter instead of making memes, and significant storm names such as Tracy are retired from the list after they've been used.

What are the green ants doing?



Luckily Cyclone Marcus didn't destroy any human houses in Darwin, but the same can't be said for everyone.

Tree-dwelling green ants are among the species made suddenly homeless by the storm.

"Green ants nest in leafy nests and basically they don't have any of them left," said Alan Anderson, a professorial fellow at Charles Darwin University.

"Basically they're all out and about foraging and probably like a lot of us, wondering what's going on."

The colonies which have been displaced will be looking to shift to trees still standing, and Professor Anderson said that could lead to pint-sized turf wars.

"The ants are territorial, so different colonies carve up different trees for their territories," he said.

"There's a possibility that there aren't enough trees to go around and there might be a little bit of war going on."

Professor Anderson said he didn't expect any significant impact on species numbers, unlike during Cyclone Tracey when the entire green ant population of the Top End was blown away and took years to re-establish.

Why did the cyclone sound like a high-pitched howl through the city, but not in the outer suburbs?



There was some dispute on an ABC Darwin Facebook post about how legitimate the video sound was of the storm howling through the city, with one poster saying no other storm videos contained the same sound.

"Wow, it sounds like one long scream," wrote Vicky Walchle.

"A thousand black bats," wrote Brad O'Shea.

Facebook user Kathy Downing said the sound was much lower-pitched in the northern suburbs.

"Is it because it's blowing through tall buildings and steel structures? Here the sound is made by the wind through the leaves of the trees," she wrote.

The sound a cyclone makes varies depending on the environment, said Greg Browning from the NT Bureau of Meteorology.

"[Cyclones] in urban environments often have really high-pitched whistling sounds, and that's probably your classic sound, that's the wind — really strong wind — interacting with buildings," he said.

"The winds are made stronger by the funnelling effects between buildings."

He said the noise would sound different rushing through trees compared to buildings.

"It's all related to oscillations the noise brushing past these objects makes," Mr Browning said.

"The ear basically works on detecting vibrations, so it gets vibrations and depending on their frequency and energy, it will set up a different noise."

How do I deal with a neighbour's tree that has fallen on my shed and house?

A lot of Territorians are grappling with who's responsible for what when it comes to fallen trees, including Curious Darwin question-asker Mim Regan.



Darwin City Council says it has no jurisdiction over private property, and affected tenants would need to file claims through their insurers.

Difficult situations often arise when your tree falls on your neighbours' property; they may think you're automatically liable, because it is, after all, your tree.

According to the Financial Rights Legal Centre, there's a special clause for fallen trees in a storm — unless there they've been identified as a hazard beforehand.

The law about neighbours' rights and responsibilities is covered generally by the common law, being the tort of nuisance or negligence.

Just because the tree's on your property, it doesn't mean you're automatically liable for it falling or dropping branches in a storm.

For you to be liable, generally you need to be aware that the tree is near the boundary and is in a dangerous condition, or .

If a strong, healthy tree blows down across the fence in a storm, this is considered to be an "act of God" for which there is no liability. And if you're not liable, then neither is your insurer.

The Legal Services Commission said if a tree had not been altered by an owner or a neighbour and it fell, insurance should cover most costs.

But if, for example, a tree's roots had been removed to repair a rise in a driveway and it falls, the person who removed the roots could be liable for the damage.



Why do some suburbs have underground power lines while others are still above ground?

Almost 30,000 households lost power after Cyclone Marcus, which has reignited the debate over whether authorities should be looking at funding underground wiring.

Sally Mac asked us to look into the issue.



The project to remove overhead power lines in Darwin begun by the former Labor government 10 years ago.

It promised to spend $80 million over 20 years on the project, saying underground cables provided safer and more reliable power, especially during the cyclone season.

Works commenced in 2004, with the northern suburbs of Nightcliff, Rapid Creek and Millner converted to underground cabling, but Power and Water put the project on hold in 2012, saying it was waiting for the go-ahead from the then-new Country Liberals Party Government.

Then-CLP chief minister Terry Mills said continuing the project was not an election promise, and they just didn't have the funds.

The completed project in Nightcliff, Rapid Creek and Millner is valued at $57 million, but the cost to underground power in the urban residential areas of Darwin is estimated to be in excess of $150 million.

This week, Chief Minister Michael Gunner said his Labor Government was discussing reintroducing the scheme.

"In terms of the undergroundings, that rolling program stopped about five years ago," he said.

"I talked to Nicole Manison, Treasurer and Infrastructure Minister, and as part of the de-brief process post this cyclone, we'll reconsider bringing that rolling program back."



Where have all the snakes gone?

With so many trees down across the Darwin and Palmerston region, snakes are on the move, and wildlife rangers have fielded a lot of calls and removed snakes from in and around homes where they've taken shelter.

"A lot of their habitat has changed so it's very important to be mindful of the fact that there might be more snakes on the move, and people are out more in their gardens and that sort of thing, so just be aware," said senior NT wildlife officer Tess Cooper.

"Generally the animals know how to handle this weather and they'll find cover during this time, but there has been a lot of damage."



As people clean up their properties, they're being asked to be careful when chainsawing, as a lot of wildlife have hidden in hollow logs.

Ms Cooper said about 98 per cent of snakes normally collected are harmless and non-venomous.

"While there are a few venomous snakes are around, it's a very, very low percentage and the risk is minimal," she said.

"Just take precautions, wear protective clothing — have long pants and your boots on — and just be diligent when you're out cleaning up."

If you do find a snake on your property, take a photo so rangers can accurately identify them. If you need advice on snake relocation, call 1800 453 210.

What are the Larrakia stories about cyclones?



Manmam-ma, or cyclones, are a sign of a troubled planet, according to Larrakia woman and ethno-botanical researcher Lorraine Williams, .

They seem most frequent during dalay, which is the monsoon season running from January to March.

Some Larrakia people say that Cyclone Tracey was brought about by disturbances to the Darriba Nungalinya (Old Man Rock), the sacred site and tidal outcrop near Rapid Creek beach.

To the west of Darwin, in Arnhem Land, .

Burrmalala is regarded as a troublesome family member, and was detected by old people watching the sea breathing and white cockatoos flying away.


- ABC

© ABC 2018

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