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Cyclone brings rain relief to parched cattle country in Western Australia's outback

Courtney Fowler, Monday January 13, 2020 - 07:17 EDT
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It has been a wet start to the year for cattle stations in the Kimberley and East Pilbara thanks to ex-Tropical Cyclone Blake. - ABC

While vast areas of Australia have been impacted by bushfires, many cattle stations in northern Western Australia are celebrating a wet start to 2020, with some reporting their best rain in two years.

Ex-Tropical Cyclone Blake did not disappoint this week, bringing up to 200- 400 millimetres in parts of the Kimberley and Eastern Pilbara, following a very dry 18-24 months.

And the Bureau of Meteorology says more heavy rainfall is on the way, as a tropical low 315 kilometres northeast of Kalumburu, continues to intensify as it tracks closer towards the north Kimberley coast.



The system has already brought more than 550 millimetres to parts of the Top End across the border, and is expected to tomorrow morning.

It will be WA's second cyclone for the week, coming only five days after ex-Tropical Cyclone Blake crossed a stretch of coast south of Broome, known as Cyclone Alley, on Wednesday morning,

By 9am Friday, the highest rainfall total for the week was in Cygnet Bay on the Dampier Peninsula, which has received almost 400 millimetres since January 5, closely followed by just over 350 millimetres in Kalumburu.

Where ex-Tropical Cyclone Blake made landfall, Wallal Downs station, has received 166 millimetres since Tuesday — almost half its average annual rainfall.





Welcome relief for pastoralists

Station manager Gavin U'Ren said it was the break in the season pastoralists in the area desperately needed.

"As long as we get some follow up rain later this month and into February, we'll be well on track for a good season," he said.

Mr U'Ren said he spent two days preparing for the cyclone and strapping down the 12 centre pivots on the property but there was no major damage to infrastructure.

"It was a good cyclone; no damage and lots of rain so there's not much more you can hope for," he said.

Nearby station Anna Plains also celebrated a well-deserved drink, receiving 146 millimetres since the start of the week.

"Puddles are beginning to look like lakes," said pastoralist David Stoate.

"It all springs to life so quickly too; certainly a lot of green grass has already poked its head up from the rain we got on New Year's Day."

Further inland, pastoralists between the Fitzroy Valley and Halls Creek also celebrated widespread falls, after some properties suffering through one of their driest seasons on record in 2019.



And after almost two years of a dry river bed, WA's longest river is flowing again through Fitzroy Crossing.



"The last time we got rain at Kalyeeda was early April, which then was only 1.2 millimetres, so realistically our last decent rain was March 2019," said pastoralist Peter Camp.

"It'll take a while to fill a lot of the waterholes up in the lower Fizroy, but one would hope we get a reasonable run which will certainly give the river a new lease on life."

New year relief

Pastoralist Haydn Sale said at the end of last year, some of the stations he manages near Halls Creek were in "real strife", with stocks of water for cattle running low.

"But then since December 28th [we've] had 50-100 millimetres everywhere and 250 millimetres under the cyclone path; best Christmas, New Year's gift ever."

As ex-Tropical Cyclone Blake moved inland, it was the East Pilbara's turn to enjoy some heavy rains and a reprieve from hot and dry conditions.

Since 9am Friday, Marble Bar has received more than 220mm, the highest in the region followed by Carlindie Station on 180mm.

Pastoralist Annabelle Coppin said it was a huge relief to receive 110mm on Yarrie Station, north East of Marble Bar.

"Mother Nature can be cruel and is to so many at the moment but she is also magic," she said.

"This is why we stick at this life; a feeling of pure happiness and relief."





Ms Coppin said it was heartening to see the De Grey River flowing again, with flood plains up around the station.

"It's bringing the country alive, a relief to people and fresh grass for our cattle, meaning more good beef coming your way."

The De Grey River is currently flowing at a rate of 45,000 tonnes or 80 fuel tankers of water under the bridge over the Great Northern Highway, according to BOM.

The Fortescue river is also flowing for the first time in years, as well as the Nullagine, Coongan and Shaw rivers receiving a top up.

Ex-Tropical Cyclone Blake was the gift that kept on giving as it tracked further inland to the parched WA outback, bringing record rainfall to parts of the Goldfields-Esperance region yesterday.

Carnegie station recorded the wettest 24-hour total since records began in 1942 of 270mm, which according to BOM is close to one-in-1,000 year rainfall event.

Although the system has now weakened in the Western Interior and not offered much relief to those battling bushfires in the Eucla, moderate rainfall may still occur over areas of the northern Goldfields and southwest Interior today.

Lake Argyle level on the rise

All the extra rainfall this week has also been welcomed by Ord farmers and tourism operators at Lake Argyle, which is currently sitting at its lowest point in more than 20 years.

The dam, which is the second largest freshwater storage in the country, was created in 1972 to support irrigation expansion in the scheme but it is also enjoyed by tourists and local skippers.



And now after some much-needed rain in the East Kimberley, the lake is finally creeping up, increasing almost 30cm in the last week.

Lake Argyle Cruises owner Greg Smith said with more rain expected across the weekend from the tropical low, he was feeling optimistic the lake would continue to rise.

"Whenever you have the lake rising, everybody seems to be a bit more content," he said.

Lake Argyle is currently sitting at 42 per cent but at its capacity it holds nearly 20 times the volume of Sydney Harbour.



Uncovering a piece of history

Dylan Lodge from Triple J Tours said the lower lake levels had put some relics of the past on display at the Southern end of the lake.

He said old stockyards built by the Durack's on the old Argyle Downs Station had recently re-emerged.

"A view of some true Kimberley history; the name of these yards are the barramundi yards," says Mr Lodge.

"When Lake Argyle was formed and filled they disappeared below the surface.

"However with Argyle being so low this year they have reappeared; amazing how well they have been preserved."

Mr Smith said in his two decades operating at Lake Argyle, he had never seen the lake so low but there was no danger of water running out or putting pressure on hydro-electricity any time soon.



More rain on the way

There is still some cyclonic weather ahead this weekend, as the tropical low intensifies off the North Kimberley coast, with communities between Wyndham to Kuri Bay on Blue Alert.

It is expected to develop into a category 1 system , and pass to the northwest of the Kimberley, before tracking in a south-westerly direction.

The BOM said it is likely to bring heavy rainfall and gale force winds of up to 100 kilometres per hour between Wyndham and Mitchell Plateau from as early as tonight.



Although the system is forecast to remain well north of the West Kimberley and Pilbara coasts as it tracks out to sea, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services are warning the public to be mindful of where the cyclone is tracking.

"If this Tropical Low intensifies into a cyclone and heads towards the coast, it may hit at a Category Two or Three, bringing with it significantly more destructive winds than Ex-Tropical Cyclone Blake.

"Preparedness is the best safety measure, so make sure you have your emergency kit at the ready and talk through your plan with your family."

Flooding from ex-Tropical Cyclone Blake still has a number of roads closed including: Marble Bar Road between Great Northern Highway and north of Newman; as well as Ripon Hills Road, between Marble Bar Road and Telfer Road.

The unsealed section of Broome Cape Leveque Road is open to 4WD access only, and remains closed to light and heavy vehicles.


- ABC

© ABC 2020

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