Rains point to possibility of Australia's first cyclone of season

SYDNEY - Australia's first cyclone of the season could batter the country's remote northeast next week as monsoon conditions develop, meteorologists said on Tuesday.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said an "enhanced risk of tropical cyclone" existed in the Gulf of Carpentaria region during the next week, with significant rainfall already occurring over far-northern parts of the continent, home to extensive fishing and bauxite mining industries.

But overall this year, meteorologists expect a less-active cyclone season, which usually lasts from November through April, due to a strong El Nino weather pattern. Changes in sea-surface temperatures in an El Nino year contribute to fewer cyclones forming close to Australian coastal waters.

Further south on the east coast, where most Australian coal is mined and shipped, non-el Nino seasons have seen collieries and rail lines flooded by cyclonic rains. In Western Australia state, past cyclones have brought some of the world's biggest iron ore mines and shipping terminals to a standstill.

However, it remains unclear whether the slow-moving monsoon trough underway in the northern part of the country will become powerful enough to eventually generate cyclone conditions, according to the bureau.

Last season, 10 storms reached cyclone strength on the Australian east and west coasts, just under the national average of 11. The last time the number of cyclones exceeded the average was 2005/06, when 14 cyclones were recorded.