Cyclone Emma crosses West Australian coast

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Satellite image from Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology 28 February 2006

The Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) say ex-tropical cyclone "Emma" has weakened below tropical cyclone intensity, after crossing the coast at 11am WST near Mardie in Western Australia (WA) today. Widespread squally thunderstorms with heavy rain and flooding are expected as the system moves further south. Approximately 280 millimetres of rain was recorded at Karratha in 36 hours.

The cyclone bore down on Australia's Pilbara region, bringing with it winds of up to 105kph. Dampier's port was closed, some flights to the region were cancelled and communities in the storm's path were battening down.

Cyclone Emma was west of Karratha and northeast of Onslow at 8am (WST) today, and travelling south at 23kph. The weather bureau said by the time the category one storm crosses the coast between Dampier and Onslow the worst of the weather will have passed.

"Most of the weather is travelling ahead of the system", weather forecaster Andrew Burton said. "They've probably had the worst weather by now, and by the time the system crosses the coast it will all be over really."

People near the communities of Onslow, Karratha, Dampier, Mardie, Point Sampson, Roebourne and Wickham were warned the storm could cause gales with gusts of up to 105kph. At Karratha, torrential rain has left parts of the town awash. Roebourne shire airport spokesman Alan Wright said there was flooding on the road to Karratha airport.

Six people were rescued after two cars were swept away by flood water dumped by the cyclone, oil and mining operations were shut down, Karratha, Tom Price and Pannawonica suffered localised flooding and three Pilbara schools had minor classroom and roof damage.

Western Australia

Fire and Emergency Services (FESA) issued an "all clear with caution" alert an hour after Emma crossed the coast and began breaking up as it moved inland. A spokesperson said: "With a category one cyclone you are not looking at destructive winds and in this case the rain that preceded the cyclone was the biggest issue. But residents should only proceed outside with caution as there may be downed powerlines, fallen trees, broken water and sewage lines, loose roof sheeting and debris."

Cyclone Emma's approach sparked a series of precautionary shutdowns of mining, oil and shipping operations. Open cut mining operations around Tom Price were shut. Guests at the Fortescue River Roadhouse, 1425km north of Perth, were stranded because of flooding.

The weather also forced Woodside Mining to cease production at two of its operations in the Pilbara region. The company said it expected no major impact from the production interruption at the North West Shelf with operations to start producing again when the weather improves.

Cyclone Emma is the third cyclone of WA's cyclone season, which runs between November and April, with most activity in the latter half of the period. The Bureau of Meteorology say they are watching another developing tropical low that could impact WA over the weekend.

The first major tropical storm this year was category three cyclone Clare which battered Dampier and brought flooding rains to mining regions and much of the wheatbelt in early January. A week later category two cyclone Daryl threatened North West WA but moved off the coast.