Cyclone Ilsa to hit WA coast as highest category five


Large waves in storm at sea, file image. (Source:

Tropical Cyclone Ilsa is expected to cross Western Australia's coast as a highest-severity category five storm, packing winds up to 285 kilometres per hour.

Initially expected to make landfall as a category four system, the Bureau of Meteorology forecast for the cyclone was upgraded as it churned closer to the regional centre of Port Hedland on Thursday afternoon.

It will now likely cross the coast as the highest category of storm about 150km to the northeast, near Pardoo Roadhouse, late tonight (local time) rather than early Friday.

Bureau spokesman Todd Smith said category five cyclones were "incredibly dangerous".

"That is going to cause a heap of damage," he told reporters.

Cyclone Ilsa satellite image. (Source:

"Any houses that aren't built to code are going to suffer extensive damage ... Fortunately it looks like the system is going to cross in a relatively unpopulated part of the coast."

Manager of the remote Pardoo fuel station, Will Batth, said he was planning to stay and hunker down with a colleague once the storm hit.

"We haven't had any as strong as this in many years. This is a big one," he said.

"(But) there's no point in worrying. I can't stop it."

Cyclone Ilsa is currently a category four system about 245km north of Port Hedland.

Department of Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner Darren Klemm said it would have a "significant impact" on communities in the warning area.

"The strength of the cyclone will be maintained as it moves quickly inland," he said.

"All the preparation work that's gone into those remote Aboriginal communities, the mine sites and the town and the pastoral stations is really critical to make sure people are staying safe."

A red alert banning people leaving homes was likely to be declared across the region about 3pm.

Evacuation centres have been opened in South Hedland, Newman, Marble Bar and Nullagine.

"If your plan is to leave your residence or place of work and go to an evacuation centre, you need to do that," Klemm said.

Communities from Bidyadanga to Whim Creek, including Port Hedland and inland to Marble Bar, Nullagine and Telfer, have been urged to make final preparations and find shelter.

Abnormally high tides, flooding, destructive winds and up to 300mm of rain are forecast.

Workers and tourists at Eighty Mile Beach caravan park and nearby Wallal Downs cattle station have been evacuated, along with non-critical workers from Newcrest's Telfer mine, and Fortescue Metal Group and BHP's sites across the region.

Extra emergency workers, essential supplies and aircraft have been sent to the area and Port Hedland's massive iron ore export port has been closed.

Mayor Peter Carter said an eerie quiet had descended over the town of 16,000 as residents prepared for impact.

"What's happening with this cyclone is very unusual and a lot of people are getting very worried," he said.

"The longer it stays out in the ocean the bigger it's going to get (and) the more powerful it's going to get."

Ilsa is expected to track into the Northern Territory late on Friday.

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