From: Reuters
Published December 28, 2007 10:09 PM

Cyclone warning declared for Australia's northwest coast

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Tropical cyclone Melanie, a category two storm with winds of up to 120 kph (75 mph), was nearing Australia's remote northwest coast on Saturday, prompting meteorologists to issue cyclone warnings for coastal regions.

Tropical cyclone Melanie was estimated to be 410 kilometers north of Port Hedland, a key terminal for the shipment of iron ore, and 465 kilometers northeast of oil producing region Karratha, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said. The cyclone was moving south at about 11 kilometers per hour.

Melanie is the first storm of the November-to-April season to form in Australia's 'cyclone alley', which is also home to the world's biggest iron ore deposits and major oil and gas fields. Normally the area sees about five storms each season.

The bureau said it has declared a cyclone warning for coastal areas from Mardie to Wallal including Port Hedland and Karratha-Dampier, while a cyclone watch was issued for remaining coastal parts between Broome and Coral Bay.

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"Gales with gusts to 120 kilometers per hour are possible on the coast between Mardie and Wallal, including Karratha and Port Hedland, on Sunday as the cyclone moves closer to the coast," the weather bureau said on its Web site (www.bom.gov.au).

Major miners including Rio Tinto Ltd, BHP Billiton Ltd/Plc and Fortescue Metals Group Ltd, as well as oil firms like Woodside Petroleum Ltd, have been forced to halt production briefly during the season.

A spokeswoman from Woodside, Australia's second-largest oil producer, said the company was keeping a close watch on the weather, though its offshore oil and gas operations had so far been unaffected by bad weather.

In March, a powerful cyclone forced oil companies, including Santos and BHP to shut about 180,000 barrels a day of production, half of Australia's output, for nearly a week.

(Reporting by Fayen Wong; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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