Weather News

Bumper wet season brings joy to Kimberley tourism operators, pastoralists

By Ted O'Connor and Courtney Fowler, Thursday March 18, 2021 - 03:35 EDT

Heavy rain has prompted the closure of part of the Kimberley's main highway, while the deluge has thrilled pastoralists and built excitement for the tourism season ahead.

Since 9am Sunday, widespread rainfall totals of 20 millimetres to 100mm have been recorded, with isolated falls of up to 178mm at Mistake Creek Homestead.

At Flora Valley Station, about 100 kilometres east of Halls Creek near the Western Australia?Northern Territory border, 177mm was recorded in the 24 hours to 9am Monday.

Station manager Gary Faulks said the downpour was equivalent to almost their entire 2019 wet season in one night.

"We've had a really good start ? that's given us 924mm for this wet," he said.

Mr Faulks said the property was experiencing its best wet in almost a decade, which was a relief after two poor seasons in a row.

"I've been here for eight years and I haven't seen the place looking better," he said.

"The amount of feed we've got and the cattle are really starting to grow now ? it means a lot."

The bumper wet has delayed the start of muster for many stations in the Kimberley, and Mr Faulks said if the heavy rainfall continued this month, mustering could be pushed back further.

But he said the inconvenience was a small price to pay for the much-needed rain.

Rain hoped to aid tourism recovery

The deluge has caused flooding of the Durack River at the crossing of the Gibb River Road.

It's an exciting sight for nearby pastoral stations and tourism operators, who are preparing for an influx of visitors this dry season, after COVID-19 forced closures along the popular tourist track in 2020.

"For us the cattle side of things is really a side business these days and without the travellers coming through, we'd have to find another way to make money," said Ellenbrae Station manager Larissa Walker.

"We're so excited that we can open up for this year and also that nature is putting on a good show, not only for us but for all the travellers on the Gibb.

"They'll get to see the Kimberley in its finest form and that makes it really exciting."

Larissa Walker and her husband Logan have been taking in tourists and local adventurers for more than five years at Ellenbrae Station, located about 230km from Kununurra.

The cattle property has become famous along the Gibb for more than its beef, selling more than 17,000 of their iconic scones with jam and cream in 2019.

Ms Walker said after a couple of tough wet seasons, the 100mm this week had taken their wet season total to about 1,000mm.

Argyle dam on the rise

Another big winner out of the recent downpour is the Lake Argyle Storage Dam, which feeds into the Ord Irrigation Scheme.

Lake Argyle is sitting at 64 per cent capacity and tourism operator Greg Smith said the dam has received a much-needed top-up after a downpour this week saw 151mm fall over the catchment.

"We have risen about a metre in the last day ? we're about 4 metres under our full level," he said.

"It probably rose about 200mm while we were out on the cruise.

"We have waterfalls that are running now today that haven't run for six years."

However, the rain continues to cause issues for some, as more than a dozen Indigenous communities remain cut off, while Purnululu National Park has pushed back its opening to April 9 so access roads can be repaired.

Minor flooding to continue in West Kimberley

The heavy rain and thunderstorms are expected to continue into the weekend, partly caused by a weak tropical low off the Pilbara coast.

A flood warning for the Ord River is expected to be removed but minor floor warnings for the Fitzroy River and West Kimberley District are expected to remain in place for the coming days.

Bureau of Meteorology senior hydrologist Robert Lawry said the low-pressure trough was not the sort of deep low associated with cyclones.

"We're not expecting any moderate to major flooding, more a nuisance and some good river flows," he said.

"[It's] nothing to be too worried about but just ?keep an eye on the road conditions."

The Great Northern Highway is closed between Derby and Fitzroy Crossing due to flooding.

Main Roads said water levels were rising at Blina Crossing, and both lanes would remain closed while crews continued to assess the scene.

The closure means it is illegal for vehicles to travel between the Derby turn-off and the town of Fitzroy Crossing.


© ABC 2021

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