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21 December 2011

Two cyclones expected to form off Australia this week

(Reuters) - Two tropical lows off northern Australia could develop into cyclones in coming days as the La Niña weather pattern persists, but pose no immediate threat to mining and crop regions devastated by cyclones and flooding in early 2011.

The storms were forming as the Australian Bureau of Meteorology forecast that the La Niña event associated with early 2011's unstable weather across Australia was yet to abate.

La Niña conditions -- cooler Pacific Ocean water temperatures -- were likely to persist through the summer months of the Southern Hemisphere, the bureau said.

Australia's commodities sectors were warned earlier this month to brace for a higher than normal number of cyclones over the November-April tropical storm season due to the presence of the La Niña pattern.

La Niña periods typically bring above-normal rainfall during the second half of the year and summer across large parts of Australia, particularly the eastern and northern regions.

A barrage of cyclones and tropical storms during the last storm season flooded collieries and halted iron ore mining while ripping apart sugar and wheat crops, driving up commodities prices around the world.

Storm damage cut Australia's commodity-weighted economy's gross domestic product growth by A$20 billion, or 1.5 percent, in the 2010-2011 financial year.

The lows off the coast of Queensland state and the Northern Territory were travelling east and north respectively and were not forecast to touch land, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said on Wednesday.

The low in the Coral Sea, about 1,100 kms (680 miles) off north Queensland, was expected to develop into a cyclone in the next 12 to 18 hours, senior forecaster Michelle Berry said.

"At this stage we do not expect to have any direct impact on the Queensland coast," Berry told Reuters.

Far north Queensland is home to some of the world's biggest deposits of bauxite, much of it mined by Rio Tinto, as well as alumina, aluminum, copper and nickel making facilities.

Berry said that if the storm maintained its predicted course, it could pose a threat to the French territory of New Caledonia later in the week.

Societe Le Nickel, a subsidiary of France's Eramet suspended work at its five nickel mines on the island last January as a precaution against Cyclone Vania.

Its Doniambo smelter in the capital Nomeau produces about 55,000 tonnes of nickel a year from ores supplied by the mines.

In the sparsely-populated Northern Territory, the bureau said a monsoon trough 250 kms (155 miles) off the coast of Darwin will develop into a tropical low, and there is a 50 to 100 percent chance of a cyclone developing by Friday.

The first cyclone of the season, named Alenga, developed earlier this month in the Indian Ocean off the west coast but dissipated before nearing land.

- Reuters