Rusty Could Mean Economic Trouble for Australia

By Anthony Sagliani, Meteorologist
February 25, 2013; 8:09 AM ET
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UPDATE:

At 3:30 PM local time, Tropical Cyclone Rusty was about 200 miles north of Port Hedland, moving southward at a speed of 3 knots. Winds were sustained at 60 knots. Some outer rain bands and squalls have been affecting coastal locations from Port Hedland to Broome.

The worst of the storm will begin tonight and persist through Wednesday as the storm continues its slow southward track. The region where landfall looks to take place is near or just east of Port Hedland, but remember that this is a very large storm and severe impacts will be felt a long distance from the storm's center.

Rusty in a Nutshell

Early Sunday afternoon local time, Tropical Cyclone Rusty was born in the waters of the northeastern Indian Ocean, about 800 miles north of Port Hedland.

As Rusty moves slowly to the south, gale-force winds are expected to commence on the coast between Whim Creek and Wallal late on Sunday night or early on Monday.

Rusty will gradually strengthen through the early part of this week, and become a severe category 4 cyclone before making landfall between Karratha and Wallal on Wednesday.

Rusty is an unusually large and slow-moving system, and rainfall over a large part of northwest Australia will result even after the cyclone moves inland and weakens, lasting well into Friday.

Widespread very heavy rainfall is expected to lead to major flooding in the De Grey catchment. Significant flooding in the Fortescue is also likely. Amounts in excess of 250 mm (10 inches) will fall across this area.

Communities from Broome to Whim Creek and even Mardie need to prepare for dangerous high winds, flooding, and coastal storm surge inundation.

The Government of Western Australia and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DEFS) is recommending that residents in these areas organize emergency supplies, including a first aid kit, torch (flashlight), portable radio, spare batteries, food and water.

Here is a look at Rusty from space on Sunday afternoon, local time. You can see how large the storm is as it spins along the northwest coast. This image is from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Disruption to the Economy

In addition to the tremendous threat to life and property, Rusty will also threaten an area of vast economic value to Australia. The Northwest coast is among the world's major oil, natural gas and mining regions.

Australia and its economy have already been impacted by several tropical cyclones in the past year, the most recent of which was Oswald, which slowly crawled along the east coast drenching croplands and major coal facilities for nearly twelve days.

Although the worst of Rusty will miss major gas and oil refining areas, powerful winds and massive ocean swells will still lead to delays or brief shut-downs.

The biggest impacts to the economy this time are more likely to come from immense flooding over key metallurgical mining facilities south and east of Port Hedland.

A storm of this magnitude is capable of causing long-term delays to plant operation, which would, in turn, affect the prices of commodities such as iron, copper and manganese.

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