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Storm slams Wheatbelt

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

A severe thunderstorm and destructive winds have swept through the Wheatbelt, leaving a multi-million-dollar damage bill in their wake.

Bureau of Meteorology severe weather meteorologist Brad Santos said the storm developed near Geraldton late Saturday morning, before travelling south at the remarkable rate of 90km an hour.

By the afternoon, it had traversed most of the State, affecting an area from Geraldton to Albany and east to Merredin.

The storm, which was not a direct cause of Cyclone Bianca, brought wind gusts of 106km at Dalwallinu, 109km at Geraldton airport and 126km at Cunderdin airfield.

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However, Wongan Hills, Toodyay, York and Northam bore the brunt of the wild weather.

Mr Santos said based on the amount of damage in York and Northam, winds would have exceeded 126km.

York Shire councillor and local farmer Tony Boyle said he had never seen anything like Saturday’s storm.

“Several houses were flattened and many lost big portions of their roof — at least 50, ” he said.

“We weren’t expecting anything out of it, because it wasn’t part of the cyclone. But emergency services were outstanding, which was appreciated by the people of York.”

Mr Boyle lost three sheds and fences were damaged on his farm, meaning thousands of sheep were able to mix.

“The wind picked up 500kg bales of straw and they hit the fence, flattening them, ” he said.

“It just picked them up as though they were weightless.”

York’s historic racecourse, which had only just reopened in September, was decimated by the storm, after its century-old grandstand was all but destroyed.

Shire president Pat Hooper was pinning his hopes on the Government declaring the York area a disaster zone, so the shire could access funding for the clean up effort.

In Northam, local resident Mike Ashworth estimated that at least a fifth of the town’s houses had been damaged.

“I know of some houses that might have to be demolished, ” he said.

While reports of damaged houses, sheds and fences continued to pour in, for some the real cost of the violent storm was the loss of precious topsoil.

Hand-feeding of sheep started almost immediately this week, after winds blew away stubble in some areas, taking parched and fragile soils along with it.

Southern Brook farmer Paul Antonio likened the storm to Cyclone Alby in 1978, and said lupin stubbles on his farm had been obliterated.

“You couldn’t see more than a foot in front of you from dust, ” he said. “You could see it from the north and it rolled in like a massive wave.”

Northam-based ConsultAg agronomist Garren Knell said many were lucky to receive rain with the wind, but wide stretches of the Wheatbelt had been left vulnerable to wind erosion.

“They finished spring bare and now there is going to be a feed gap for farmers, ” Mr Knell said.

“Some areas had up to 50mm of rain, which will mean a drop in feed quality.

“Dams are full of sheep manure. In a lot of cases, stubble blew into fences, causing them to fall over.”

More storms and isolated showers were expected throughout the Wheatbelt and Great Southern this week, although they were not expected to be as damaging as Saturday’s storm.

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