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Storm historians forecast future

The Bathurst Bay hurricane of 1899 wreaked unparalleled destruction on the east coast of Australia, killing about 350 people and destroying every one of the 100 ships moored in Princess Charlotte Bay on Cape York. In its aftermath dolphins were found wedged 15m up cliffs, sharks were washed 40km inland, human bodies and ships' wreckage formed long drifts in the ocean and on beaches. But coastal dwellers may soon face even more catastrophic storms, due to the combined effects of climate change and long-term oscillations in Australia's weather. A project highlighting long-term patterns in the coastal climate, with periods of drought lasting several decades alternating with similar-length periods of increased storm activity, believes the weather is now in transition from the underlying drought that has been with them since the mid-1970s to a stormier outlook that, when combined with rising sea levels associated with climate change, will "whack us in the face" with dramatic changes to the Australian coastline. "The coast is going to move in for centuries. This is bigger than a few retaining walls. We will be moving inland." The researcher sold his beachfront home 10 years ago and moved "up on to solid rock", but he believes 30 years of relatively storm-free weather has lulled most into a false sense of security. The Gold Coast, parts of the Sunshine Coast and many NSW coastal towns are at particularly high risk.

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