Australia faces almost double the number of destructive tropical cyclones, possibly as many as 22, across oil and gas, iron ore and sugar production regions during 2010/11 cyclone season, the weather bureau said.
The above-average number of cyclones are a result of a strong La Nina weather system which brings higher rainfall and more storms over the western Pacific, the Bureau of Meteorology said in its annual cyclone-season outlook released on Tuesday.
“For the full Australian region, there is a high degree of confidence that the total number of tropical cyclones will be above average,” it said. “The forecast values (or number of cyclones)…20-22 are significantly higher than the long-term average value of 12.”
The largest increase in cyclones is expected off the northwest, with 11-12 cyclones compared with an average of seven. Cyclones in the northwest threaten some of Australia’s largest oil and gas projects, including the offshore North West Shelf gas province and associated liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants onshore.
Woodside Petroleum Ltd operates the A$20 billion ($16.93 billion) North West Shelf venture. The six partners in the project are Woodside, BHP Billiton Plc/Ltd, Chevron, BP Plc, Royal Dutch Shell and Japan Australia LNG (MiMi) Pty Ltd.
The sparsely populated Pilbara region in the northwest is home to scores of iron ore, manganese, nickel and bauxite mines. Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton are the two largest miners in the region, followed by Fortescue Metals Group and a handful of other miners.
Australia’s giant Port Hedland iron ore terminal is on the Pilbara coast and shuts down and orders berthed ships to safe harbors if a cyclone threatens.
Australia’s northeast can expect six to seven cyclones, up from an average of four, said the bureau, adding the western Pacific had a 79 percent chance of more tropical cyclones.
Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of coal, most of it shipped out of the port of Dalrymple in the northeast, which shuts down under cyclone threat.
BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Xstrata, Peabody Energy and Macarthur Coal are among firms relying on Dalrymple Bay to export millions of tons of coal annually.
Sugar crops in the northeast state of Queensland, where about 95 percent of Australia’s cane is grown, would also be under threat from increased cyclones, which often turn into rain depressions which bring substantial flooding.
Australia is forecast to export 3.2 million tons of sugar from the 2010 crop, largely to Indonesia, Japan and South Korea.
The bureau’s cyclone outlook covers the period from July 2010 to June 2011, with most tropical cyclones in the southern hemisphere occurring from November to April.
The outlook period also covers the duration of the current La Nina which is expected to cause the increase in cyclones.
“The majority of international climate models surveyed by the Bureau of Meteorology predict that La Nina conditions are likely to persist into 2011,” said the bureau. (Editing by Mark Bendeich)