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19 March 2012

Tropical Cyclone Lua


Coming from the island state, I'm not familiar with weathering tropical cyclones. We just don't have them. Yes, we have cold winters, frost in the mornings, but at least we don't have to put up with this shit. Having just been through a Red Alert with TC Lua, I thought I might describe the experience.

First thing: the Bureau of Meteorology have their website, listing weather reports, warnings etc. They've probably had this for years. I've just discovered it. People here affectionately call it 'The BOM'. As in "What does the BOM say? Shall I check out the BOM?", like they're old friends. Anyhoo, I'm now also familiar. It's bookmarked on my laptop. So whenever there is the inkling of bad weather about, people go straight to the BOM and see what warnings are currently issued. When we had two days of solid rain last week, people were logging on left, right and centre, tracking the initial low on their splendid little cyclone map, and then watching intently as it formed into a Category 1 off the East Pilbara coast.

There are three stages of alert. Blue Alert, is stage 1. This means you are supposed to determine where you will be sheltering. Obviously if you are in a caravan (as plenty of people are here in Port Hedland) you will be looking for alternate accommodation. You are also meant to be getting your cyclone kit ready: a torch, radio, non-perishable foods, water, candles and matches etc. During this time, the hospital was calling for volunteers to work the cyclone. Rob and I put our hands up being the mercenaries that we are. The potential overtime was too good to ignore.

Once the cyclones is formed, the BOM begins plotting its trajectory on this little map, and estimating its future movement and category and then they decide which communities need to progress to Stage 2 of Yellow Alert. Apparently, what turns a low into a cyclone is the addition of warm water, especially around the 30 degrees Celcius mark. I still don't really know why this happens, but apparently thats the deal. That warm water gets sucked up into the cyclone, and intensifies its movement and speed.

At this point, the preparation begins. Sail clothes come down, wheelie bins are cabled tied to posts, any loose objects are stored inside, deck chairs are chucked in swimming pools. People move to their place of shelter and prepare to bunker down and batten the hatches. Planes were grounded and hangared, the mines shut down, the ships were sent well off the coast, the pubs and shops closed. This is the point that Rob and I were called to come to work.

Stage 3, Red Alert was called around three hours after we arrived. At this point, no-one is permitted to drive. The ambulance service stops the minute the weather escalates, the only people permitted on the road are police (who are meant to be fining delinquent drivers) and SES workers who help in extenuating circumstances. The hospital goes into lockdown. No-one is meant to come or go. (People still do however!) And then those staff have to remain at work until the All Clear is called. So we sleep in shifts wherever we can find a bed, we eat the crap food that the hospital provides, observe the weather, listen the wind, admonish the people who ignore the Red Alert and come to the hospital anyway for minor complaints, and care for the ones who present for legitimate ones. And actually we had several emergencies during the cyclone.

And 25.75 hours later, we were released. Port Hedland was not damaged at all. Luckily we were on the edge of cyclone, and about 100km from the centre. So the weather here was not much more than a hammering of rain, and some stiff winds. But the thing is that cyclone trajectories are unpredictable. They can change direction at any moment, particularly as they gather speed and intensity as they move towards the coast. By the time Lua hit the community of Pardoo, it was a Category 4 (and it only goes to Category 5). The roadhouse there was severely damaged, there was flood damage and roofs were lifted. Scary stuff.

And that brings me to my original point. Why would anyone want to put up with that every cyclone season? It makes me glad I don't have to. I don't think I could bunker down several times a year, never knowing if your house and your loved ones were going to come out unscathed each time. I know that people here get used to it, they prepare well for it and that people live in different places for different reasons, but I do know that its just not me. I'm thankful for my island home, despite its frosty mornings!

2 comments:

  1. Great post Eve. I have also spent many an hour on BOM of late, but the would-be Cyclone Mitchell totally bailed on us and did little more than screw up my weekend plans. All rain no wind.

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  2. The island certainly has its advantages. Glad you survived your first cyclone, take care, mon amie.

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