UPDATE: Residents of Western Australia's northwest coast are being told to expect Severe Tropical Cyclone Rusty to arrive on Wednesday evening - and to prepare for a prolonged battering.
The category four cyclone is still edging towards the towns of Port Hedland, South Hedland and Pardoo, bringing with it the likelihood of 230kmh winds, a massive storm tide and torrential rain.
Residents already under red alert lockdown for more than 24 hours have been told they may have to stay sheltered until at least Friday, with floods and winds set to leave a trail of destruction across the Pilbara.
Figures from NASA satellites tracking the monster storm are frightening - their Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument shows thunderstorms with cloud top temperatures colder than minus 52 C surrounding the eye of the storm.
The TRMM satellite, which flew directly over Rusty on Tuesday, recorded rainfall of over 138mm per hour near Rusty's western eye wall.
And a 3D image of Rusty's rainfall and cloud heights created at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland showed the tops of some of the towering thunderstorms in Rusty's eye reaching heights of over 12km.
Port Hedland deputy mayor George Daccache said the winds and rain are relentless.
“It is pretty windy, and it has been relentless for the past two or three days. I don't see us having any sunshine for a while," Mr Daccache said.
"We are riding out the storm the best we can but we have been on alert since last Friday and looks like we will be on red for another day or so.
"The storm surge is our biggest worry. We are going to cop our fair share. We are doing the best to make sure the town is secure."
Rusty sat almost stationary overnight, 130km north-northeast of Port Hedland, with the exact crossing location and time still a mystery.
Forecasters are confident it will cross the Pilbara coast on Wednesday evening.
"It is important that residents understand that dangerous conditions will commence well before the system centre reaches the coast and extend some distance from the centre," Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Neil Bennett said.
The last severe cyclone to cross the Pilbara coast was Lua in March 2012, which travelled between Pardoo and Wallal as a category four, with maximum gusts of 230kmh.
Ian Badger, the manager of Pardoo Roadhouse, has told ABC radio his staff have been sent to Broome and he is braving the storm on his own.
"Everything is pretty wet, the whole yard is covered with water, it is like a lake everywhere," Mr Badger said.
Rainfall totals to 9am (WST) on Wednesday include 189mm at Yarrie, with the De Grey River catchment expected to experience totals in excess of 200mm.
Port Hedland personality Wayne Ness lost his house to a cyclone in 2007, when category-five George ripped through the area, killing two people at a rail construction camp.
"Yesterday morning I heard a familiar sound of rippling tin," Mr Ness said.
"My heart was palpitating like you wouldn't believe and I had the shakes really bad."
The rain had softened vegetation, raising fears of falling trees and damage to infrastructure, Mr Dziombak said.
Rising tides could also cause storm surges and flooding.
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