Welcome to our tenth wet season wrap up for Northern Australia where we take a look at Northern Australian towns/cities and go through their previous wet season. In October, we continue our features by speculating at what the early modelling might be showing for the upcoming wet season for these locations so become a subscriber, show your support and get access to this exclusive information. Today we remain in North-West WA and specifically the town of Port Hedland (pop approx 14 500).
Mining, mining, mining - it's all about mining and specifically the mining of Iron Ore around this town and then the transportation of that Iron Ore. Unlike in agricultural lands who covet rain, Rainfall here (specifically heavy rainfall) is not just a nuisance to operations but a day of rain costs millions in lost potential productivity. The town is also known to a lesser extent by its salt pans and the harvesting of salt is an industry that employs many residents. One thing that always resonates with visitors who come to this region is the beautiful red soils that can be seen from high in the sky. Port Hedland has a Semi Arid climate with some Savannah type influences. The Wet Season begins in December and continues to June as the town lies a little too far south for the monsoon and a little too far north for cold frontal activity, it's sort of stuck with a little influence from both features. The town receives around 320mm of rain over about 32 days leaving 333 days a year where mining operations remain unaffected by weather. The town does see some strong South-Easterly winds which can carry dust from inland regions over the township making it a little uncomfortable for asthma sufferers especially on days where those south-easterly winds overpower the daily seabreeze.
The 2018/19 Wet Season was above average for Port Hedland, but that comes down to one reason - TC Veronica in March.
WET SEASON 2018/19 RAINFALL Outside of Veronica who we will get to later there wasn't much to sing about the 2018/19 Wet Season for Hedland. The first gusty storm of the season hit the town on January 24 as Tropical Cyclone Riley began intensifying a few hundred kilometres to the North-West of Hedland. The day harboured two thunderstorms, a weaker one hit the town mid afternoon as an entree followed by a gusty one around 9:30PM which was the main course. Combined these two cells resulted in about 24mm of rain. The storm event of the 24th was then followed by days of dry gusty convective showers and storms in the region with strong east to north-easterly winds present gusting to about 70km/hr at times as Tropical Cyclone Riley continued to move away well to the west and a dry but unstable easterly established itself over the Pilbara.
The less said about the dry as a bone February the better, so let's get onto March. It was a ridiculously hot start to the month and then this was followed finally by an overnight storm on March 12th with a nice 12mm of rainfall. There wasn't much more to spruik about until March 23rd when the rain from TC Veronica began. The rain began just after lunch time on the 23rd and then continued until the morning of Tuesday March 26th. A 73 year daily rainfall record was broken on March 24th with 179.4mm recorded and followed up on March 26th with a further massive total of 136.8mm. In total over the period Port Hedland received 369mm of rain over 4 days. That's more rain than the town receives over the course of an entire year.
Thankfully there was no further significant rainfall after the cyclone moved away and in fact that was about all she wrote for the remainder of the Wet Season with May being unseasonably dry and hot and April and June remaining relatively dry as well. So the Wet Season of 2018/19 was really all about the 4 days of TC Veronica.
TROPICAL CYCLONE IMPACTS
Tropical Cyclone Riley in January helped create the environment that saw some gusty storms impact Port Hedland, but it did not directly impact the town.
The season was all about Tropical Cyclone Veronica. Between March 23 to March 26 she remained in the vicinity of Port Hedland. The cyclone remained nearly stationary just to the north-west of the town and while it did get close to Hedland, the town managed to stay outside of its destructive core. Maximum officially recorded winds by the BoM station were at 119km/hr at 10AM on the 24th March (our OCC portable stations recorded 109km/hr). The winds began gusting to gale force at 1:00PM on the 23rd March and the final gale was recorded just after midnight on the 26th March. Along with the damaging winds, the town copped 369mm of rain over that 4 day period which is about 30mm more than the town gets for a WHOLE YEAR on average along with a daily maximum 24 hr record on the 24th March of 179.4mm eclipsing the previous record of 157mm set in 1988. The Port Hedland 'Port' had to remain closed for two full days and part of a third day and with the port of Karratha also being shut for as long, the estimated disruption to Iron Ore Exports during that time resulted in costs approximating 1.5 - 2 billion dollars to the regional economy making this the costliest disaster of 2018/19.
Temperatures overall across the wet season were unremarkable until March. Early in March we saw excruciating heat develop in the Pilbara and affect Port Hedland with the town recording its highest daily March Maximum in 62 years of record with a searing 47 degrees, I guess the Weather Gods ended up rewarding the place with a cyclone a fortnight later. The stifling day time heat and a shallow layer of moisture overnight meant that minimum temperatures were well above average for the first 22 days of the month and it actually took Cyclone Veronica to cool those overnight temps back to average. However, the damage was done and the town set a new March Highest Minimum Monthly temperature record with an uncomfortable 26.5 degrees overall recorded.
Following on from March the remainder of the wet season temperatures dropped back to near or slightly above average, but the lack of cloud bands in May did result in a significant departure from the average maximum overall for the month.
We cover the biggest town in the Pilbara tomorrow night.
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