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Cyclone threat downgraded for northern WA but record rain swamps Broome

By Erin Parke and James Carmody, Saturday February 17, 2018 - 18:12 EDT
ABC licensed image
Heavy rain from the tropical low has flooded roads in Broome and left cars stranded. - ABC licensed

A tropical low that is expected to build into a cyclone has dumped record-breaking rainfall on the town of Broome, swamping the town centre and prompting men to duck-dive in flooded roads to salvage cars.

In the 24 hours to Saturday morning, the town recorded more than 360 millimetres of rain — almost doubling the previous record of 195mm for one day.



Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) forecaster Noel Puzey said just six weeks into the year, the tourist town was already nudging close to breaking its annual rainfall record set in 2000.

"I think that we are looking at the wettest year for Broome, according to our very quick calculations," he said.

"The annual record at the moment is 1496mm in 2000, and at 6:00am this morning we were up to — if we believe the automatic gauge — 1366mm.

"We're not quite to the wettest year, but there's only about 100mm to go, so one would think we could get that in the next 10 months anyway."

The downpour led to several call-outs for local volunteer SES crews to sandbag properties.

Department of Fire and Emergency Services district superintendent Grant Pipe said one low-lying home on the outskirts of town had been inundated with water.

"Our volunteers have been active in both the Shire of Broome and Derby, and they have done a great job stopping water flooding into houses," he said.



"At near Morrell Park we had a lady who had to be rehoused because her house was significantly flooded, but other than that the jobs were of a minor nature.

"The advice from the bureau suggests that we're going to get more rain and see totals similar to the last 24 hours over the next day, so flooding remains a significant risk for Broome."

Food supplies cut off as highway closed

The record rainfall has forced the closure of the Great Northern Highway east of Broome, where water is rushing across the road at several points.



"We have closed the highway from the Roebuck Roadhouse to Willare, that's closed to all vehicles," Main Roads regional manager Lana Powell said.

"It's flooded … at one of the [Logue River] floodways it is 850mm deep."

Main Roads regional manager, Andrew Pyke, said the possible cyclonic conditions and heavy rains could end up closing major arterial roads and highways, with the area already having major rainfall.

"The Roebuck plains have already got 100 to 200mm over them now, and certainly the events we've had in the past 24 hours isn't helping — the crossing of the [currently tropical] low will add to the situation," he said.

Mr Pyke said crews were closely monitoring the situation and there were fears conditions could deteriorate.

"From a flooding perspective, it's a bit of a perfect storm. We've got a lot of water sitting on the Roebuck plains area now and a lot of water happened in the last 24-48 hours in the Broome area, and there is more water coming down with the passing of this cyclone. It is quite difficult," he said.

He said some roads in the Kimberly were already damaged due to previous cyclones and heavy rains.

"There's certainly been significant damages of some roads in the Kimberley with the water that's flowed over the roads. We are very concerned," he said.

Restrictions have also been put on the Great Northern Highway between Broome and Port Hedland, with four-wheel-drives and trucks permitted but not light vehicles.



The highway closures will have ramifications for days to come, with food supplies cut off and post delayed.

It is the latest in a string of major storms and disruptions for West Kimberley towns, which have already been battered by two cyclones and a major tropical low since December.

Cyclone expected to reach category two

The tropical low is expected to form into Tropical Cyclone Kelvin on Saturday afternoon or evening, but has not intensified as quickly as expected.



The current track map has the cyclone swinging back towards the coast before Sunday morning, crossing the coast near the sparsely-populated Eighty Mile Beach area east of Port Hedland.

BOM forecaster Brad Santos said they had scaled back their forecasts for the system, and it was no longer expected to become a severe category three system.

"It's been slow moving … and it is now unlikely to get to category three intensity prior to crossing the coast, but it could get up to category two before crossing the coast on Sunday," he said.

"However, gales are still likely to develop along the coast.

"There's still the possibility of destructive winds with gusts to 150 kilometres an hour if we get to category two prior to it crossing the coast."



Pastoral station ready for storm

At De Grey Station, about 80 kilometres east of Port Hedland, the Bettini family have been busy preparing for the coming storm — bringing down cyclone shutters to protect them from damaging winds and flying debris.

The family has enough supplies to last weeks in case access to their homestead is cut off by floodwaters.



But station manager Mark Bettini is hoping the record-breaking rainfall in Broome will grace the area of De Grey and set up his cattle prospects for the future.

"If we got a bit of rain now it could set us up for this year and next," he said.

He was not too fazed about the gale force winds from the system, saying sometimes they had a silver lining.

"Providing your good stuff doesn't get blown away you get the opportunity to rebuild again," he said.


- ABC

© ABC 2018

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