Thursday, January 13, 2011

Massive Flooding in Australia

Flood-Hit Australia Likely to Escape Cyclones, Weather Forecasters Say
By Jason Scott - Jan 12, 2011 11:29 PM MT

Australia, reeling from the nation’s worst floods in decades, is likely to escape direct hits from two cyclones forming off its east and west coasts, Bureau of Meteorology forecasters said.

A tropical low in the Coral Sea off Queensland’s northeast coast is “unlikely” to affect the flood-ravaged Australian state, Terry Erbs, duty forecaster at the bureau’s Brisbane branch, said today. Tropical Cyclone Vince off the northwest coast is highly unlikely to have any impact on the coast and the mineral-rich Pilbara region, Noel Puzey, a Perth-based duty forecaster at the bureau, said in a separate phone interview.

The predictions will be welcome news for emergency services and coal miners in Queensland who are battling floods affecting 75 percent of the state that have claimed at least 26 lives since late November. Cyclones sometimes disrupt mining production in the Pilbara, which includes 12 iron ore mines operated by Rio Tinto Group and seven by BHP Billiton Ltd.

The Coral Sea tropical low, which has more than a 50 percent chance of reaching cyclone status by Jan. 16, probably won’t make landfall on the Australian coast, Erbs said, citing the bureau’s forecasting models. The bureau has briefed Queensland emergency services that the cyclone is unlikely to have an impact on the state, Erbs said.

Tropical Cyclone Vince, about 900 kilometers (560 miles) off the Western Australian coast, is likely to start tracking west into the Indian Ocean tomorrow, Puzey said. The cyclone is a category one, the weakest rating on a scale of one to five.

No Impact

“We’re not expecting it to have any impact on the coast or the Pilbara at all,” said Puzey. There were early indications another cyclone may form off Western Australia’s Kimberley coast, north of the Pilbara, next week, Puzey said.

The Pilbara is the main resource center of Western Australia, a state about four times the size of France that accounts for 62 percent of the nation’s mineral production, 75 percent of natural gas and 64 percent of crude oil and condensate, according to state government figures.

“Woodside is preparing its facilities in the north-west in response to Tropical Cyclone Vince,” Woodside Petroleum Ltd.’s Perth-based spokeswoman Laura Hammer said in an e-mailed response to questions. “There is currently no impact to production.”

Woodside, Santos Ltd. and Apache Corp. operate offshore rigs in the area being affected. Matthew Doman, Adelaide-based spokesman for Santos, and David Parker, Perth-based spokesman for Apache, weren’t immediately available for comment.

New South Wales, Victoria

In New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state and directly south of Queensland, flooding is occurring in the north and northwest, affecting townships including Tenterfield, Casino, Maclean, Yamba, Grafton, Boggabilla, Tabulam, Ulmarra and surrounding areas, the state’s government said on its website.

Flood and severe weather warnings are in place for much of Victoria state’s northeast region and Tasmania state’s northern and central areas, according to the bureau.

The cost to the nation of the Queensland floods may total as much as A$13 billion ($12.9 billion), or 1 percent of gross domestic product, said Stephen Walters, chief economist for Australia at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Sydney. Michael Turner, an economist at RBC Capital Markets Ltd. in Sydney, estimates first-quarter growth would be cut 0.1 percentage point should Brisbane be closed for two days.

A La Nina weather event has brought record rainfall to the coal- and sugar-producing state and is expected to last into Australia’s autumn, the Bureau of Meteorology’s Head of Climate Monitoring and Prediction David Jones said yesterday by phone from Melbourne.

Mining companies including Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Xstrata Plc have deferred deliveries of coal, driving up the price for steelmaking and power coal.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jason Scott in Perth at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Poole at

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