An unusually dry start to the wet season has left agricultural industries across northern Western Australia praying for some reprieve, even as a potential tropical cyclone moves closer to the top end.
The 2018–19 northern monsoon season is on track to be one of tardiest on record with the latest the monsoon trough has ever arrived, nearing the record set on January 25, 1973.
For Cheryl Camp from Kalyeeda, about 250 kilometres south east of Derby, she said it had been the hottest and driest start to a wet season she could remember at the station in 20 years.
"It's probably been the longest stretch of heat that we have known in our time here at Kalyeeda," she said.
"We're pretty well used to heat of 45 degrees [Celsius], even up to 47 degrees in November and December, but most years that's usually coupled with storms or cloud cover so you get a bit of a reprieve."
Hot and dry conditions take toll on wildlife
The Kalyeeda homestead had received little more 30 millimetres this wet season since Tropical Cyclone Kelvin passed over last February, until last night a storm brought some much needed relief with 40mm of rain.
Mrs Camp said temperatures had reached as high as 50 degrees at Kalyeeda this wet season, which had seen an unprecedented number of birds and wildlife seeking shelter at the homestead.
"We saw birds that I've never seen in such large numbers; I've never seen budgies at the homestead and they have been coming in droves," she said.
"We also have a resident owl that succumbed to the heat and tried to revive it, even the bigger birds have struggled.
"Luckily since Christmas there has been a few storms further out towards the river and back of the property which has filled a couple of our billabongs which is great."
One of the driest parts of the Kimberley is along the coast at Cygnet Bay, which has had 22mm since the start of the wet.
Isolated storms delight pastoralist
However, luck has begun to turn around for a lucky few pastoral stations in the West Kimberley, receiving their opening rains following some isolated storms in the area last week.
For Anna Plans Station south of Broome, its owners fortune changed when they woke up on Friday morning to 84mm in the rain gauge.
Pastoralist David Stoate said it was a huge relief to finally see some rain.
"It is a great start, albeit late but it is a case of better late than never," he said,
"We were sitting on 20-odd millimetres which only happened a few days prior, so the wet season hadn't really started for us until that big rainfall event."
Pastoralists nervous about poor wet
Mr Stoate said the hot and dry conditions across northern WA had created a lot of nervousness amongst pastoralists in the region.
"It's certainly very stressful, there was no green feed before this big event and there's a lot more pressure on the water points," he said.
"There's not much mustering we can do now so it's just a matter of waiting it out and starting early if we have to.
"I think unfortunately this is a pretty isolated storm, so most pastoralists will still want a decent fall to get them going."
It is a stark contrast to conditions in the area this time last year, with Broome experiencing its wettest January on record at 942.2mm.
Mr Stoate said it was hard to believe they were canoeing through paddocks last January, following a tropical low which left a deluge of rain across the station.
The absence of tropical cyclone systems this year has seen hot and dry conditions extending along the Pilbara coast and Gascoyne, with most sites so far recording 25mm or less this wet season.
Areas around Exmouth, Karratha and Roebourne have recorded either less than 5 millimetres, with Marble Bar recording its hottest January day on record at 49.1 degrees last week.
Extreme heat turns grapes to mush
Extreme temperatures in the Gascoyne have also seen Carnarvon table grape growers hit hard this season, with unrelenting heat wiping out up to half of some varieties on the vine.
Grower Mark Bumback said the season was looking promising until temperatures around Christmas topped out at 48 degrees, turning black and red grapes varieties to mush.
"The season was looking reasonably good but the day before Christmas was 44 degrees, Christmas Day was 48.5 degrees and Boxing Day was 42 degrees," he said.
"That did a lot of damage, especially to the black grapes and red seedless, being a darker coloured fruit, they just went soft and collapsed in the heat.
"The Sweet Sapphire was the worst suffered, unfortunately we lost around 50 per cent of the blacks and 20 per cent of the red seedless."
Mr Bumback said it was a disappointing end to the season, with some of the vines on his plantation still suffering from shock.
"Even the stuff we're picking now, we're having issues with trying to get sugars into them," he said.
"We're still picking the last of our white grapes, the Sweet Globe were really happy with the quality, but the Autumn Crisp we'll have to see whether we can turn it around and get it to sugar up."
Mr Bumback said overall it had been a challenging growing season for horticulture in Carnarvon.
"We normally do get a hot spell but not to the extent we had on those three days around Christmas, that 48.5-degree day was a back breaker," he said.
"It doesn't matter whether you've got bananas or mangos or melons, everyone suffers the same, everyone lost a big percentage of their crop.
"We need for mother nature to be kind for a change and give everyone half a chance, I think the whole district needs a bit of a good run."
Only 3.2mm has fallen at Carnarvon Airport this season to date, coming off the back of the driest year since 2014 recording an annual rainfall total 105.8mm.
Tropical cyclone likely to form this week
It will be all eyes on the weather radar again this week as the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) monitors a looming monsoonal trough expected to form into a tropical cyclone in the next 48 hours.
A Tropical Cyclone advice for region's coastal areas was issued on Tuesday, with the cyclone expected to form on Thursday morning.
"We're expecting that to develop into a cyclone later in the week, and it could impact the Kimberley and the Pilbara," BOM WA Severe Weather Services Manager, Brad Santos said.
"It's important people are aware, listen out to the latest forecasts from the Bureau and the advice from the Department of Fire and Emergency Services."
Despite the predicted stormy weather, the BOM's climate outlook, released last week, showed there was little chance of above average rain between for February to April.
BOM data indicates a drier than median three months is likely for most of WA, as well as western parts of the Northern Territory and South Australia, with a greater than 80 per cent chance of daytime temperatures being higher than median, which is from 27–30 degrees.
So far most of the rain which has fallen across Northern WA since October 1 has been concentrated in the North East Kimberley, with 420.3mm at Lake Argyle Resort, 385.6mm at Theda Station and 360.6mm at Kununurra Airport.
The town of Wyndham recorded 301mm from October 1–January 21, which is in fact the lowest rainfall total since the 2004–05 wet season.ABC