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Below-average WA cyclone season no excuse for complacency as authorities warn residents of deadly consequences

Matt Bamford, Sunday October 13, 2019 - 18:36 EDT
ABC licensed image
Munda cattle station was inundated with water after heavy rain from Cyclone Veronica. - ABC licensed

Predictions of a below-average cyclone season in northern Western Australia should not be an excuse for complacency, according to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM).

Its modelling suggests there will be fewer cyclones in the 2019–20 season, but with the significant risk of at least one severe system making landfall, residents and travellers have been warned to be vigilant.

Similar predictions were given last year before severe Tropical Cyclone Veronica caused evacuations and widespread flooding as it crossed the Pilbara coast in March.

Memories of Veronica

The BOM's acting state manager, James Ashley, said Veronica showed how much damage and disruption can be caused by a single cyclone.

"Last season we saw a below-average number of tropical cyclones with just three cyclones in the WA region, and yet severe Tropical Cyclone Veronica was a clear example that it only takes one system to significantly affect communities," he said.

"It produced significant impacts for the central Pilbara with its destructive winds, very heavy rainfall, a storm surge along the coast and flooding through large parts of the central Pilbara."

Dozens of homes were affected around Port Hedland, South Hedland and Karratha.

Thankfully no lives were lost but residents in those areas were cut off for days after roads were washed away.

Pastoralists in the region also suffered stock losses as their cattle perished in the flooded plains.

The north-west coastal region of WA experiences, on average, five tropical cyclones every season — usually between November and March.

This time around however, the BOM said there was a 40 per cent chance of an above average number of tropical cyclones off the north-west coast.

It is likely that coastal areas will be impacted twice by cyclonic activity with a significant risk of at least one severe tropical cyclone.

Prepare now

The WA Department of Fire and Emergency Services assistant commissioner, Paul Ryan, said residents should begin their preparations now to avoid being caught out.

"The consequences could be deadly. Residents near the coast need to have an evacuation plan," he said.

"A key lesson from Tropical Cyclone Veronica was that people need to prepare early — don't leave it to the last minute.

"You cannot rely on there being surplus food, water and other essential items available."

Assistant commissioner Ryan said residents should follow a number of practical steps to ensure their safety in the coming months.

"Keeping safe is as simple as cleaning up and removing loose items from around your home," he said.

"Preparing an emergency kit, including stocking drinking water and non-perishable foods for up to five days, and paying attention to community warnings."

Assistant commissioner Ryan said seaside residents must consider the added impact of extreme tides and rising water levels.

"People who live near the coast need to be aware of storm surges. This is when cyclones cause the sea water level to rise and flood nearby areas," he said.

"At high tide, the surge can be powerful enough to knock down buildings, run ships aground and wash away roads."


© ABC 2019

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