A tropical low brewing 600 kilometres north-east of the Queensland coast could make landfall somewhere between Cairns and Townsville early next week as a category four cyclone or higher, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) says.
BOM issued its first tropical cyclone watch at 5:00pm for Cape Tribulation to Mackay, saying it expected the tropical low in the Coral Sea to reach cyclone strength by Saturday.
It said gale-force winds were expected to begin on Saturday, with a cyclone predicted to reach land on Monday morning or on Tuesday.
It will be called Debbie or Ernie, depending on whether a low off Western Australia forms before it.
BOM Queensland regional director Bruce Gunn said the intensity of the cyclone would hinge on how much time the system spent over the water.
“If the cyclone speeds up it will most likely remain at the lower end of the spectrum,” he said.
But if it crosses on Monday or Tuesday there is the potential for it to intensify to severe tropical cyclone strength of category three or higher.”
At 10:46pm AEDT, the bureau updated this to a category four.
Heavy rains are likely to continue well into next week in northern and central Queensland.
Sergeant Bill Stanley, from the far north’s District Disaster Management Group, said this morning the State Emergency Services and Queensland Fire and Emergency Services were “well and truly in the planning and preparation phase”.
“The earlier that it crosses the coast, the less intense the system will be,” he said.
“If it was to cross on the Sunday afternoon, the bureau is saying it could be as low as a tropical low or a category one.
“But if it was to come across the coast more on Tuesday morning, there’s a good likelihood it will have intensified so it could be more likely to be a category two, category three.”
Deputy Premier Jackie Trad said emergency authorities were well trained from harsh experience in the most disaster-prone state in Australia.
“It might be an unenviable reputation but it means that our emergency services personnel are probably the best in Australia in terms of preparing for extreme weather events like this cyclone forming off the coast,” Ms Trad said.
“We are getting ready [and] I want to make sure that Queenslanders themselves are getting prepared, making sure that they stock up, in the potential eventuality that a cyclone will cross the coast.”
‘Ready for whatever comes our way’
Cassowary Coast Mayor John Kremastos said local disaster management groups met again this morning.
“Our basic preparations are in place now and we’re ready for whatever comes our way,” he said.
“Please make sure that you take all the necessary safety precautions by removing any removable objects from your backyard, a general tidy-up.”
Cr Kremastos said residents were trying to remain calm.
“We’ve been through obviously two huge cyclones in Larry and Yasi, so their basic instincts on being prepared are kicking in,” he said.
Mission Beach banana grower Steve Lowe said he was not overly concerned just yet.
“There is a general buzz about but part of the reason for that is it’s really the first one that’s formed this season, if it does indeed form,” he said.
“There’s the general clean-up issues which normal householders would do before a cyclone anyway, so there’s some common sense things [to do].”
If it forms, the system will be named Cyclone Debbie.
There have been three tropical cyclones already this season Ã¢?? Yvette in December, Alfred in February and Blanche in March.
The last tropical cyclone to cross the Queensland coast was Tropical Cyclone Nathan, which crossed near Cape Flattery, north of Cooktown, in 2015 as a category four system.
Ergon Energy spokesman Mark Biffanti said homeowners needed to clear their yards or tie down loose items like roofing iron and outdoor furniture.
“These can become dangerous missiles and pose a threat to powerlines and people in strong winds,” Mr Biffanti said.