A tropical low developed into tropical cyclone Veronica to the north-west of Broome in the early morning of Wednesday 20 March 2019 and intensified rapidly to become a severe tropical cyclone (category 4) the following day.
The Bureau of Meteorology warned that the slow-moving system would pose the highest risk the region had experienced from a cyclone in the past decade. Damaging winds near the core of Veronica were expected to impact communities from Port Hedland to Karratha, 200 kilometres to the west, for much longer than expected from a typical cyclone.
Veronica remained almost motionless for the next 24 hours and the coastal and adjacent inland areas between Port Hedland and Karratha experienced a prolonged period of destructive winds and very heavy rainfall. Maximum sustained winds were 195 kilometres per hour, with a peak wind gust of 275 kilometres per hour.
Veronica brought very destructive gusts of more than 200 kilometres per hour as it tracked westward along the coast towards Karratha before weakening to a category 2 system the following day. The cyclone continued westward and was finally downgraded to a tropical low to the west of Karratha on the 26 March and passed Exmouth on 27 March. Veronica produced rainfall totals along the Pilbara coast and adjacent inland areas between Port Hedland and Karratha that were five to seven times the March average. A number of sites had their wettest March on record or wettest March since 1988.
As a result of the community’s preparedness, no deaths or significant injuries were reported.
The port of Port Hedland, one of the largest iron ore loading ports in the world, was closed for nearly 5 days from 22 March due to Veronica. BHP’s iron ore production was reduced by an estimated 6–8 million tonnes, Rio Tinto’s by approximately 14 million tonnes, and Fortescue Metals’ production by an estimated 2 million tonnes.
Estimated Commonwealth–State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements claims for this event were $36.7 million across the three LGAs, with the majority deriving from the Town of Port Hedland and City of Karratha for the restoration of essential public assets.