The 2002–03 Australian region cyclone season was an event in the ongoing cycle of tropical cyclone formation. It began on 1 November 2002 and ended on 30 April 2003. The regional tropical cyclone operational plan also defines a tropical cyclone year separately from a tropical cyclone season, which runs from 1 July 2002 to 30 June 2003.
Eighteen tropical cyclones developed in the South Pacific and Austrian regions, which was near average. Eight of them formed in the Australian region. There was a major shift in tropical cyclone activity from the Australian region to the South Pacific, because of a moderate El Niño event. Only two cyclones occurred between 125°E and 150°E and six formed between 150°E and 160°E. All of the tropical cyclone developed during Madden-Julian oscillation (MJO) pulses or Equatorial Rossby (ER) pulses.
A tropical depression formed on 25 December east of 90E and moved into TCWC Perth area of responsibility (a subdivision of the Bureau of Meteorology) two days later. Although it had to potential to intensify, it never did. TCWC Perth monitored the system until January 3.
A strong low pressure system crossed near Elcho Island on 5 January 2003. It was operationally recognised as a tropical low, but post-analysis indicated that the system reached tropical cyclone intensity, with winds reaching 50 knots. It remained in the Northern Territory mainland for many days, until 21 January when it moved into the Timor Sea. It crossed the Western Australian coast near Port Hedland on 24 January. It again was treated as a tropical low at first, but it again was upgraded to tropical cyclone strength after post-analysis.
Beni originated from the South Pacific region and its remnants moved into the Coral Sea where it briefly strengthened to a tropical cyclone off Mackay on 4 February. It finally crossed the Queensland coast over Seaforth just north of Mackay as a very weak tropical low. Flooding rains caused by Beni resulted in damages of at least A$10 million (US$6 million) in Queensland and US$1 million (A$2 million) in Vanuatu.[nb 1] One person drowned due to the flooding rains. Runoff on the Fitzroy River caused by Cyclone Beni resulted in a moderate flood with an estimated return period of four years at Rockhampton. The cyclone's heavy rains helped ease drought problems in Queensland. Nine shires in Central Queensland were declared disaster areas.
An area of convection developed and persisted on 3 February about 600 mi (970 km) north-northwest of Port Hedland, Western Australia. Poorly-defined convection was noted as well as a weak atmospheric circulation, and a good outflow soon developed over the disturbance. The system drifted slowly westward on the 4 February without much change in organization until around 2000 UTC, when satellite imagery showed an increase in convection near the center. Subsequently, the JTWC issued a TCFA for the system. In an environment of weak to moderate wind shear, TCWC Perth issued a warning on the developing low. At 0700 UTC, Perth named the system Tropical Cyclone Fiona, then located roughly 400 mi (640 km) east-southeast of Christmas Island. The JTWC issued their first advisory on Fiona at 1200 UTC on 5 February, estimating winds at marginal tropical storm strength. Fiona intensified steadily. At 1200 UTC 6 February both JTWC and TCWF Perth estimated the intensity at 65 mph (105 km/h)
, a Category 1 tropical cyclone on the Australian intensity scale. Continuing to intensify, TCWC Perth upgraded the storm to severe tropical cyclone status at 0400 UTC on 7 February a couple hundred miles southeast of Christmas Island. Hours later, the JTWC followed suit, upgrading this system to Category 1 status on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.
As an eye became embedded within partial concentric convective bands, TCWC Perth upped the intensity to 115 mph (185 km/h)
. Even though the eye made a brief comeback, water vapor imagery showed cooler and drier air beginning to enter the southern portion of the storm. Fiona began to turn towards the southwest as it neared the 90th meridian.
By 12 February, Fiona had weakened below hurricane intensity. Moving steadily southward at, it then began to re-curved along the 91st meridian, and hence began moving south-southeastward. Rapidly weakening, JTWC issued their final warning early on 13 February and Perth followed suit four hour later. The remnants of Fiona moved into the Great Australian Bight, leading to significant amounts of rainfall. The Eyre Peninsula and Adelaide recorded more rain in 24 hours than they had in 2002 and 2001 combined. The New South Wales saw major flooding events in towns such as Tamworth. Flooding also closed the Pacific Highway. Over 100 houses along the Gold Coast were damaged due to the torrential rains.
An area of convection that was situated over land for roughly a week emerged over open waters along the northern coast of Australia. A low pressure area eventually formed. By 25 February, the low developed a banding feature. Despite strong wind shear, BOM started issuing warnings while the low was located several hundred miles north-northeast of Port Hedland. The disturbance was initially nearly stationary, at 0700 UTC on 27 February, the JTWC designated the storm as Tropical Cyclone Graham. According to the JTWC, the storm had intensified late on 28 February, though at the same time the BOM noted the slight weakening of the storm. Graham reached its peak intensity that day while nearing the coast. The storm made landfall at Western Australia's Eighty Mile Beach at 1400 UTC on 28 February. The storm's remnants died out in the country's desert.
The heavy rain caused flooding and road closures, and swelled a river passing through Fitzroy Crossing, though the river only topped its banks slightly. Near that town, at Blue Bush Creek, while a group of people attempted to cross floodwaters, two men were swept away. Both men were rescued, though one died before emergency services arrived. In addition to the flooding, a number of trees were downed.
. The system maintained a well-defined circulation although deep convection diminished somewhat later on 2 March. At 2200 UTC, Perth began issuing gale warnings on the low as it was expected to develop into a tropical cyclone. By 0600 UTC on 3 March the system was located approximately 550 mi (890 km)
north-northwest of Learmonth. Moving east, convection increased near the center and according to the JTWC, the depersion was a small, fairly symmetrical system, though dry air inhibited much development. At 0400 UTC on 4 March, the TCWC Perth named the system Tropical Cyclone Harriet, estimating winds of 50 mph (80 km/h)
. Late on 5 March, Tropical Cyclone Harriet began moving slowly southward and ultimately curving toward the west-southwest.Convection fluctuated some, but the cyclone maintained its intensity. Although slight intensification was predicted, deep convection decreased slightly, and the JTWC later lowered back to 40 mph (65 km/h)
, which it maintained until 9 March as by that time only a small area of deep convection maintained. Harriet was declared to be an extratropical cyclone at 1000 UTC when located about 360 mi (580 km) west-northwest of Carnarvon. Subsequently, the remnants of the storm paralleled to the Western Australian coastline. TCWC Perth still tracked its remnants until 11 March.
Severe Tropical Cyclone Erica was a powerful cyclone that severely affected New Caledonia and was considered the worst to affect the country since Cyclone Beti. The origins of Erica originated from a monsoon trough that strengthened into a tropical low on 1 March. After intensifying, the low gained sufficient organization to be named Erica on 4 March just off of Queensland. Slowly moving towards the southeast and then north, Erica attaining wind speeds of 105 km/h (65 mph 1-minute sustained). However, Erica did not maintain this intensity for long as it entered an environment of strong wind shear. On 7 March, the cyclone degenerated into a tropical low. After the remnants turned to the east and subsequently southeast, wind shear conditions abated and conditions were once again favorable for tropical cyclone development. As a result the low regenerated into a tropical cyclone. After attaining the equivalent to a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale, Erica entered the South Pacific cyclone area on 12 March.
Early in its existence while just offshore Queensland, the predecessor to Erica brought strong winds to the coast. Several trees were uprooted, and others were defoilated. Power lines were also damaged. The name "Erica" would later be retired by the World Meteorological Organization.
By 8 March 2003, an area of disturbed weather associated within the monsoon trough developed in the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf and the TCWC in Darwin began to watch this system two days later. After completing a clockwise loop, the storm had attained Category 1 status while situated to the northwest of Cape Fourcroy; it soon entered the Timor Sea, and shortly thereafter, Craig made landfall on the northeastern end of Melville Island with estimated 10-minute sustained winds of 95 km/h (60 mph). It then struck the Coburg Peninsula and began to slowly weaken as it skirting eastward along the Northern Territory coast. It held on to Category 1 status until reaching the Gulf of Carpentaria on 11 March.
Damage from the storm was generally insignificant due to the sparse population in the areas affected, and no casualties were reported. An uprooted tree at Kowanyama damaged one house, and the winds downed several others trees and tree limbs nearby. Throughout the region, roads were cut by the cyclone. Weipa recorded significant wave heights of 3 m (9.8 ft).
Inigo formed from an area of disturbed weather was located within the near-equatorial trough near Papua New Guinea. Despite easterly wind shear, Inigo developed into a tropical low on 30 March, and subsequently crossed the island of Flores. On, 1 April it developed into a tropical cyclone to the northeast of Sumba. and the JTWC issued its first advisory on the system. The next day BOM classified the low as Tropical Cyclone Inigo. An eye featured gradually organized, and by 3 April, the cyclone had underwent rapid intensification as the eye became increasingly better defined. At 0600 UTC April 4, Cyclone Inigo reached peak winds of 240 km/h (150 mph). Meanwhile, Inigo tied Cyclone Gwenda of the 1998-99 season as the most intense tropical cyclone on record in the Australian cyclone region. On 5 April, the eye became cloud-filled and by 7 April, its winds decreased to below Category 2 status, or below 120 km/h (75 mph). Inigo made landfall early on 8 April in the Pilbara region of Western Australia; the circulation dissipated within 12 hours after moving ashore.
The precursor tropical disturbance dropped heavy rainfall in eastern Indonesia; Heavy damage was reported near Ende, where flooding and mudslides destroyed 20 houses and destroyed the roads connecting to East Flores. In Ende, a total of 294 animals were killed. In East Flores Regency in eastern Flores Island, the system left 75 destroyed houses, along with 77 severely damaged and a further 56 receiving light damage. Damage in Indonesia totaled less than $6 million (2003 USD, $6.8 million 2007 USD), and 102 injuries were reported. In addition, 58 fatalities were reported. In Australia, the storm dropped 128 mm (5.04 in) of rain in 80 minutes.
Epi formed at approximately 0630 UTC, 5 June near Woodlack Island unusually close to the Equator, from an area of fairly persistent convection stretching from New Guinea across toward the north of Fiji. Initially, the storm appeared to be undergoing rapid deepening, prompting the JTWC to issue a TCFA. However, strong wind shear caused the system to quickly become less organized and the TCFA was soon cancelled. A very short lived cyclone, a Papua New Guinea warning during the late morning hour of 5 June UTC placed Epi's center about 80 mi (130 km)
northeast of Woodlack Island. Never recognized as a tropical cyclone by the JTWC, the third and final warning was issued later that day after winds fell below gale force. Tropical cyclones forming in this region are rare. Since 1993, only two other cyclones were named by Papua New Guinea.
Tropical cyclones are named if they are non-frontal low pressure systems of synoptic scale developing over warm waters, or Dvorak intensity analysis indicate the presence of gale force or stronger winds near the centre. Therefore, a tropical system with gales in one or more quadrants, but not near the centre, are not named.
↑In order to convert the value of 10 million AUD, the values of the currencies were taken from their respective values on 5 February, 2003. For the value of 1 million USD, the values of the currencies were taken from their respective values on 30 January, 2003.