January 11, 2018 / 10:44 PM / 9 days ago

Australia's weather bureau downgrades forecast severity of Cyclone Joyce

SYDNEY, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Australia’s weather bureau has cut the forecast strength of a cyclone bearing down on the continent’s far northwest on Friday.

Cyclone Joyce, a Category 1 storm, is holding just off the beaches of Pilbara iron ore belt, already prompting the closure of the world’s biggest iron ore export terminal at Port Hedland, 1,700 km (1,050 miles) north of Perth, as a safety precaution.

The storm is forecast to cross the sparsely-populated coast about 250km northeast from Port Hedland later on Friday. But it is no longer predicted to reach Category 3, or severe strength, according to advice issued by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology overnight.

Widespread heavy rain, wind gusts of up to 120 km per hour and strong tides are still predicted to pummel the region, and residents of Broome, a coastal town about 90 km from the storm, are ordered to take shelter.

However the very destructive winds previously forecast are no longer expected and once the storm makes landfall it is predicted to weaken as it travels inland.

Port Hedland, which accounts for over half of Australia’s iron ore exports, handling more than a million tonnes a day and most of it bound for Chinese steel mills, was cleared and closed on Thursday.

Pilbara Ports Authority, which operates Port Hedland, said it was monitoring the storm’s effects on ports further south at Dampier and Ashburton as well, but has not updated its advice since the weather bureau’s revised forecast.

The storm is the second to menace Australia’s northwest in as many weeks, since Cyclone Hilda blew down trees and caused minor damage at Broome last week.

On average, there are 10 to 13 tropical cyclones between November and April in the Australian region, four of which typically cross the coast, data from the bureau shows.

Reporting by Tom Westbrook; editing by Diane Craft

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