Severe Tropical Cyclone Lua was a category 4 system on the Australian intensity scale with wind gusts to 230km/hr as it crossed the coast just east of Pardoo. Oz Cyclone Chasers were on location at Pardoo Station as the system made landfall. We have a documentary on sale at our web store of the event. Here is a brief overview of what we saw along with graphs and other images.
CHASE REPORT FOR SEVERE TROPICAL CYCLONE LUA
Our Tropical Cyclone Lua chase began on the evening of Wednesday the 14th March from Darwin. We travelled through the night as a LOW pressure system was making landfall right along our path. The LOW crossed the coast between Katherine and Kunnunurra and we actually got to drive through the worst of it.
Other than for some torrential rain between Katherine and Kunnunurra, Our trip to the west was largely uneventful and time passed very slowly. What was 2000kms felt like 10000kms. However, in saying that the Kimberley escarpment was very beautiful and for Trav and myself, this was the first time we had ever seen it outside of a National Geographic documentary. We arrived in Broome on the afternoon of Thursday 15th March.
Upon arriving in Broome, our first order of business was to have a brief meeting with FESA. FESA just wanted to make sure we were aware of what was acceptable behaviour in the different codes that Western Australia has in the event of a cyclone threat. They also wanted to check out the chase vehicle and chase gear. As I mentioned, this was the first time Trav and I had chased in WA, and I tell you what the codes and restrictions in WA make chasing cyclones quite a lot more difficult than chasing them in other states. Once our meeting with FESA was over, it was time to relax and refresh.
We are massively indebted to the wonderful hospitality of a prominent forum member known to many as Popeye. Popeye's wonderful family cooked us a BBQ and extended such warm hospitality to the team giving us all beds to rest in for the night and showers to refresh ourselves.
We awoke on the Friday morning to purchase all necessary supplies for a number of days. Popeye, having seen our last chase made sure he gave us a bunch of LCM's to eat for the trip (those that knew us from Yasi will understand the joke here :) It was clear the Monsoon had pushed south on the Friday morning and Broome was starting to feel its effects. That meant that Cyclone Lua would begin its SE push very shortly, it would then intensify and accelerate to the coast. Therefore we bid our goodbyes to Popeye and his family and got our buts into gear for the trip towards Hedland.
We stopped in to the Pardoo Roadhouse to have a chat with owner Ian Badger about other cyclones he's been in and to make sure he was ok and ready to experience what was coming his way. We then headed a little further South-West and got to the Pardoo Station where the owners were very kind to allow us to set up our weather stations and set up camp in their Category 5 rated dongas. We enjoyed a few ales and had a big night sleep, knowing that Saturday was the big day.
We all awoke pretty early on Saturday morning, if the truth be told, we probably didn't really get that much sleep because of the excitement. Winds were gusting to gale force first thing in the morning and we could see the ominous rush of the low level clouds towards the circulation. Those of you who have been in cyclones know what I mean about the speed of those clouds. We ventured out and had a look at where the best vantage points would be for footage and for hand held data (it's important when taking hand held readings I am a long way away from anything that could become a debris missile). Once we recalibrated our weather station to read exactly what the official BoM one did (the wind speed in the official one doesn't work - but the pressure was calibrated accurately). We had an early lunch and listened to each update.
By about lunch time we had sustained gales with winds gusting to damaging force. It was show time so we got all of our protective gear on and away we went. My trip involved the Go Pro helmet cam and my trusty Kestrel handheld weather recorder. While Trav sets up cameras around the place to capture the effect those winds have on the trees and buildings around us. At about lunch time we realised to our horror that TC Lua which was directly headed our way, ended up wobbling about 20kms to the east. This wobble meant that we would miss the eye by about 25 - 35kms. Regardless we were about as close as we could safely get and being in a code RED we were not allowed to drive (and quite frankly I'd have been to scared to drive anyway) Conditions worsened quite dramatically as Lua made landfall around mid afternoon over the Pardoo Roadhouse. We were getting buffeted with 100 - 125km/hr sustained winds and gusts between 130 - 170km/hr. There was a period of about 15 minutes where conditions turned really violent out there. Above the roar of the wind we could hear the scraping sound of metal on concrete and the unmistakable clanging of tin on roofs. Remarkably though the Station and the trees in it remeained largely in tact.
Since we didn't go through the eye, the winds rotated more gradually from the SE to the South to the SW to the West. Once the westerly wind took hold, the rain almost instantaneously stopped. So we were left in this ominous looking situation where the eye wall full of rain and extreme wind was literally just a couple of kilometres away, meanwhile we were copping 100km/hr winds and absolutely zero rain. We kept a close lookout in the dry weather for any signs of tornadoes or funnel clouds in the banding wrapping around the cyclone's core, but nothing that we could definitively say was a tornado developed in our field of vision. The gales with gusts to about 130km/hr continued for what seemed like hours after the system crossed with winds finally abating in the evening hours. It was quite a unique experience seeing tree branches snapping off and yet not experiencing rain. The strong winds felt a lot drier as well which was surprising considering they were coming off the Indian Ocean.
The task of onselling our footage began that night and by the next day we were able to upload our footage for channel 9. The next morning we awoke to find the place had held up remarkably well. The biggest issue for the Station was that a number of cows may have wandered into the sea and drowned. With nothing much left for us to do, we tidied up our area, picked up some tree debris and then packed the car. We got back to Pardoo Roadhouse which resembled a bit of a war zone. Trees were down everywhere, but luckily all the structures remained pretty well intact. Ian and Janet were remarkably composed when we visited them and they have given us a fair few photos and footage which we will upload for you shortly (you'll also find some of their footage on our DVD). Once we made sure Ian and Janet were ok and once the media started to swarm in, we left and headed back to Broome.
Once again Popeye had outdone himself cooking us all a BBQ and allowing us to rest for a few hours. This time though we had to get back ASAP. Something big was brewing in Queensland and Trav and I were pretty keen to hit the road ASAP and get back to Townsville to experience whatever that severe weather was going to be (turned out to be a tornado and 200 odd mm of rain). So in the middle of the night we began the long trip back to Darwin. We ended up getting to Darwin on Monday night and were set to fly first thing Tuesday morning. Unfortunately for us, the weather didn't wait and the Townsville tornado struck just as we were getting to Darwin airport. We had to sit there stunned as the first morning images came up on screen. And the rest.... is history.
Despite not getting into the eye of this one, we got some valuable data which we were able to share.
MAXIMUM WIND GUSTS 3 SEC
MAXIMUM 1 MINUTE SUSTAINED WINDS
MAX RAIN RATE
968.9 HPA at 2:41PM
141.1KM/HR (raw) 162.9km/hr (corr) at 2:56PM
104.7KM/HR (raw) 136.7km/hr (corr) at 2:48PM
76.8MM/HR at 3:08PM