Fairfax Media Network

Weather News

An average cyclone season is forecast

By Natalie Jones, Wednesday October 17, 2012 - 14:01 EDT
ABC image
A tanker moored at a jetty on Cockatoo Island where iron ore is mined. - ABC

The state's north west is facing a low to average number of cyclones this season.

But, it was a quiet season when George, a category five cyclone packing very destructive winds, crossed the WA coast in 2007, killing three people and wreaking widespread damage on some mining camps.

The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting about five tropical cyclones between November and April, including one or two that could impact the mainland.

The bureau's Andrew Burton says it's not the numbers that matter.

"There's a lot of focus sometimes on the numbers and what we find when we look at them is there's no correlation between the number of cyclones we have off the coast and the number of coastal impacts we get," he said.

"The classic example is the 2006/2007 season where we had the tragedy of Tropical Cyclone George, one of the most powerful tropical cyclones to hit mainland WA, and sadly caused a lot of destruction overall and deaths."

Mr Burton says that season serves as a warning.

"That season overall was very quiet so it really drives home that message that it's not about the numbers, it's really about needing to be prepared every season for that one severe tropical cyclone that can really cause a lot of havoc," he said.

"Unfortunately, there's nobody in the world that can tell you whether this season it's your turn."

Flash flooding

The community of Warmun in the Kimberley's remote north was devastated by flash floods from torrential rains in March 2011, a common byproduct of the cyclone season.

The Warmun Art Centre manager, Alana Hunt, says it was a traumatic event as a more than two metre wall of water turned the flat area into an ocean.

"Everyone wants the rain to come to cool the heat but no-one wants the rain to come to flood the community again," she said.

"No-one was expecting it would go to the level it did and it was that last moment when it really started flooding that everyone got out of here.

"No-one expected two and a half metres of water to flood a huge building, it was like an ocean of rain.

"It came right through the gallery and washed out a lot of the walls of the centre.

"We were just scrubbing mud and repairing paintings and cataloguing damage and people were bringing in works that had been washed down the river," she recalls.

Members of the Fire and Emergency Services Authority and the Bureau will hand deliver this season's forecast to the most cyclone-prone patch of the north-west coast, from about Exmouth to Broome.

FESA's Kimberley Superintendent Grant Pipe says they will educate people about the cyclone alert system and check they know what to expect when the season hits.

"As we know cyclones can be very, very severe and cause massive damage and have the potential to kill," he said.

"So the intent of the tour is to go out, make sure that there's a line of communication between us and them.

"It's quite a harrowing experience and some people are traumatised by the effects of a severe tropical cyclone."

Self sufficiency

Superintendent Pipe has so far visited a handful of community leaders, police and local governments in remote parts of the Kimberley, to check there are power supply back-ups, plenty of food and water reserves, and medical equipment.

"These people really need to be self-sufficient for a period of time before we're able to get emergency services personnel in there to assist," he said.

Remote communities aren't the only ones to get a visit - FESA and SES have just checked out iron ore mine sites along the Yampi Sound, north of Broome.

Grant Pipe spoke to mine managers at the isolated Koolan Island and Cockatoo Island mines.

He says mine sites face their own challenges, particularly as they often have a FIFO workforce.

"People come out of the Perth metropolitan area and don't really have an understanding of cyclones and the importance of preparedness so that's some of the risk that we face as an industry," he said.

"The industry has been fantastic with regards to providing documentation through their induction processes so people are aware."

Back in Broome, where Grant Pipe is based, the challenge is to reach those who tend to become complacent.

He says they are reminding builders to put away loose objects, ensure site sheds are secure and tie down building items.

"There's always people out there that think it's never going to happen to them but we'd certainly like to reiterate to them that one day it will happen to them and to ensure that they're prepared," he said.

Lesson learnt

Ms Hunt says the Warmun community is now better prepared but it is still dealing with the after-effects of last year's flooding.

"We're still recovering from it now - it took about a year to get things functioning at a semi-normal level," she said.

"I think around 80 percent of what we had was destroyed so it was really about starting from scratch."

Ms Hunt says the Gija people have channelled their experiences into paintings.

"With the trauma of the flood and the experience of losing everything in your house as well as everything in the art centre gone by; sort of looking at it as an opportunity to start fresh," she said.

"We've had some really interesting painting come out of that which over the next two or three years [will] feed into some pretty important exhibitions nationally, I think."

She says the community has learnt from its experience.

"We have a new building that is specifically flood-proof, it's two stories high, so we will be housing all the really important works there, the stuff that can't be replaced," she said.

"In terms of the gallery, the building's still here and it was refurbished but it wasn't replaced; we just have to be on the ball and if it looks like there's going to be a flood we have to get everything to higher ground."

Mr Burton is reminding north-west residents it is not about the predictions but about being prepared.

"An average season is to have around five cyclones off the north-west coast which is exactly what we had last season," he said.

"The numbers vary greatly in terms of coastal impacts but on average there's two coastal impacts and one of them's severe."


© ABC 2012

More breaking news

Sydney Morning Herald
ABC News
National Nine News
News Limited

Display Your Local Weather

Weather News

Victoria bracing for worst fire season in a decade

19:15 EST

Record-breaking low rainfall in parts of Victoria is forcing the Country Fire Authority (CFA) to bring forward the start of its bushfire season.

Bumper ski season keeps on keeping on

17:14 EST

A cold front delivered more healthy snowfalls over the last couple of days, adding to the already above average snowpack, with more snow on the way.

Broken Hill plagued by emus as they head into town in search of food, water

16:34 EST

Mobs of emus have taken over the small mining town of Broken Hill in far west New South Wales, running laps of the main street, eating gardens and gate crashing football matches.