Australia’s northern coasts are being battered by two severe tropical cyclones on Friday, the first time meteorologists have seen twin storms of such intensity making near-simultaneous landfall.
Cyclone Lam crossed the Northern Territory coast about 20 kilometres east of the town of Milingimbi as a category 4 cyclone overnight, knocking out two wind monitors in the process. It has been downgraded to a category 3 as the storm moves inland.
About 2000 kilometres to the south-east, Cyclone Marcia has now crossed the coast near Yeppoon, close to Rockhampton, on the central Queensland coast. The storm was rated as a category 5 cyclone, the highest ranking.
Cyclone Marcia was downgraded to category 4 by the Bureau of Meteorology at its 11am briefing.
While twin cyclones reaching Australia are uncommon, Friday’s combination may be the first involving storms of category 3 or higher, said Phil Perkins, a meteorologist with the Bureau of Meteorology in Darwin.
“It’s the first time that we have seen two severe cyclones occurring at the same time,” Mr Perkins said.
Category 3 storms have sustained wind speeds of 118-159 km/h, with peak gusts of 165-224 km/h, according to the bureau’s definitions.
Cyclone Lam knocked out a wind station at Elcho Island late on Thursday, with 150km/h winds the highest recorded at the site. A second station at Milingimbi also halted operations, recording winds at 93km/h at the time.
Wind speeds reached 260km/h at their peak, with sustained winds of 175-185km/h, Mr Perkins said. A storm surge has reached all parts of the Gulf of Carpentaria, with some areas recording seas more than one metre above the astronomical highs, he said.
Cyclone Marcia, meanwhile, has recorded wind speeds of as much as 285km/h, with sustained winds of 205km/h, Mr Perkins said.
The cyclones are the first to make landfall on mainland Australia this season, the third latest arrival in the past 50 years, the bureau said this week.
Ben McBurney, a meteorologist from Weatherzone, said Cyclone Marcia would bring heavy rain down as far as Coffs Harbour on the NSW coast.
One possibility is that it breaks up and becomes a tropical low. Another possibility is for the storm to weaken into a low before reforming into a cyclone.
Sea-surface temperatures off south-eastern Queensland are about 27 degrees.
“That’s enough to sustain a cyclone,” Mr McBurney said. “It could remain as an intense low and then fall back into a category 1 cyclone.”
Unusual heat out west
While northern and north-eastern parts of Australia are being battered with heavy rain and winds, other parts of the country are exceptionally hot.
Much of the Pilbara and other parts of north-western WA are likely to bake in 45 degree-plus heat of Friday.
Roebourne Airport reported a top of 48.6 degrees on Thursday, among the 10 hottest maximums recorded in February in Australia. The site followed up with 48 degrees on Friday. as of 1.55pm, local time.
“We do have a general easterly flow across the country,” Mr Perkins said. The warm air “has a lot of time to be in contact with hot land” by the time it reaches the north-west of WA, he said.