Severe tropical cyclone Ita is heading towards the north Queensland coast, bringing with it destructive winds and torrential rain.
Expected to make landfall tonight, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology upgraded the storm to a category five, it’s highest rating, on Thursday afternoon.
The Bureau’s regional Queensland director Rob Webb is warning wind gusts in the centre of the storm could near 300 kilometres an hour but its the heavy deluges, high tides and storm surges Webb is warning residents to prepare for.
“While the strongest winds are focussed near the centre, the warning area for tropical cyclones of this intensity is quite broad with destructive winds, heavy rainfall possibly leading to flash flooding, and coastal inundation due to storm surge all posing a threat,” he said.
Member of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science and Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne, Kevin Walsh said people need to take heed the damage storm tides can cause.
“It is worth emphasising that along the coast, the main potential for damage in severe tropical cyclones is coastal flooding, the so-called storm tide, rather than high winds,” he said.
“The influx of sea water, driven by strong winds and accompanied by high waves, is something that the Bureau is specifically warning coastal residents to be prepared for, and to evacuate if advised to do so.”
The warning zone extends from the Lockhart River to Innisfail and includes Cairns.
“Ita currently lies to the northeast of Cooktown, and has slowed slightly and is expected to cross the coast between Cape Melville and Cooktown late Friday evening,” he said.
Webb said cyclone Ita is stronger than cyclone Yasi which hit the Queensland coast in February 2011 but is “much smaller in size”.
Residents have been told to prepare for dangerous storm tides and flooding in low lying areas likely with the Bureau issuing a flood warning for coastal rivers and inland streams between Cooktown and Townsville.
Here’s the latest forecast tracking map from the Bureau:
Webb said Queensland’s cyclone season is usually between November and April.
“While April is late in the season, tropical cyclones are not uncommon at this time of year. Tropical cyclone Zane formed in the eastern region in April 2013 and severe tropical cyclone Monica in April 2006,” he said.
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