Cyclone Damien preparation leaves Pilbara shops bare, closes schools
BOM meteorologist Bradley Hall said gales would begin to develop on the coastal parts of the Pilbara on Friday, with destructive winds of up to 150 kilometres per hour to develop overnight as the cyclone approaches the coast.
As the cyclone crosses the coast on Saturday, the BOM is forecasting gusts of up to 230 kilometres per hour near the cyclone centre, likely to cause extensive damage.
The storm will also bring “very dangerous tides”, which could cause damaging waves and very dangerous flooding.
“It’s a significant system, it’s a severe tropical cyclone category 4 at this stage, likely to cross the coast,” Mr Hall said.
“The extent of this thing will be mainly through the Pilbara, then the Gascoyne and then it will likely weaken below tropical cyclone intensity through the Gascoyne and then become this kind of rainy event through inland WA.”
Nearly 20 schools, high schools and learning centres in the region closed on Friday, and the ports of Port Headland and Dampier have been cleared, with the latter scheduled to shut at noon.
“The Port Hedland Port Authority has advised port operators to prepare for the approaching weather and we are managing our operations accordingly,” a BHP spokesperson said.
“We will continue to monitor the situation with the safety of our people and operations as the first priority.”
In Karratha, supermarket shelves laid bare after customers stocked up on essentials ahead of the arrival of Cyclone Damien.
Coles WA general manager Pat Zanetti said the supermarket giant had brought forward deliveries for stores in the area forecast to be affected by the cyclone and ensured all stores had extra non-perishable items in a bid to assist locals preparing for the storm but warned customers might experience shortages.
“As the storm system has moved faster than anticipated, deliveries expected on Saturday are likely to be delayed to Monday,” he said.
“This means there will be some stock shortages at our stores in the Pilbara, however, we are working with authorities managing road access to improve product availability as quickly as possible.”
Cyclone Damien would be the first severe tropical storm to hit the Karratha and Port Hedland since Cyclone Christine in 2014. If BOM predictions are accurate, its impact could surpass that of Cyclone Christine, which was downgraded to a category 3 after crossing the Pilbara coast.
Cyclone Damien will be the third cyclone for the season following cyclones Claudia and Blake, which brought extensive flooding to the Pilbara region in early January.
A cyclone warning is in place between Wallal Downs and Mardie, including Port Hedland, Karratha, Dampier and Barrow Island, while areas between Mardie to Onslow as well as the central Pilbara including Tom Price, Paraburdoo, Marble Bar, Nullagine, Newman and Mt Augustus, remain in cyclone watch.
A flood watch is in place for the Pilbara and Gascoyne districts, with heavy rainfall expected to exceed 300 millimetres forecast for Saturday, as well as the North and West Kimberley rivers.
While WA’s north braces for extensive flooding and destructive winds, southern parts of the state are under bushfire alert, with high temperatures, strong winds and thunderstorms likely to bring dangerous fire conditions on Friday.
Fire weather warnings have been issued for the Central Wheatbelt, Great Southern, Inland Central West, South Coastal, and Ravensthorpe Shire Coast.
Marta is an award-winning photographer and journalist with a focus on social justice issues.