Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie Upgraded To Category 4 Before Hitting The North Queensland Coast

A tree down on Airlie Beach after Severe Tropical Cyclone Ului, 2010 Image: Rae Johnston

Severe Tropical Cyclone Debbie, a category 3 cyclone, is set to intensify to a category 4 by tomorrow morning as it makes landfall on the north Queensland coast. This is the biggest storm in the region since the category 5 Tropical Cyclones Yasi (2011) and Ului (2010).

Beachside towns surrounding Ayr have just been evacuated in preparation.

The main areas to be preparing for the cyclone to hit are from Cardwell to St Lawrence including Townsville, Mackay, and the Whitsunday Islands, and inland of Bowen including Charters Towers. Inland areas between Lucinda and Mackay including Pentland, and Mount Coolon should also be on watch.

The forecast path shown above is the Bureau's best estimate of the cyclone's future movement and intensity. There is always some uncertainty associated with tropical cyclone forecasting and the grey zone indicates the range of likely tracks of the cyclone centre.

Due to the uncertainty in the future movement, the indicated winds will almost certainly extend to regions outside the rings on this map. The extent of the warning and watch zones reflects this.

Image: BOM

As of 1:15pm AEDST Gales are now occuring about the Whitsunday Islands, and are expected to extend to the exposed coast and islands elsewhere between Ayr and Mackay this morning and early afternoon. Gales could extend to remaining coastal and adjacent inland areas between Townsville and St Lawrence later today before potentially extending further north to Cardwell and further west to inland locations such as Charters Towers, Pentland and Mount Coolon on Tuesday.

Destructive winds with gusts over 125 km/h may develop about the exposed coast and islands between Cape Upstart and Mackay during the afternoon. These may extend further north along the coast to Townsville overnight and during Tuesday and to adjacent inland areas, including Collinsville, on Tuesday.

The very destructive core of tropical cyclone Debbie is forecast to cross the coast between Townsville and Mackay on Tuesday morning with wind gusts potentially to 240 km/h near the centre of the system.

Abnormally high tides are expected to occur along the coast between Proserpine and Mackay on the high tides today.

Residents between Cape Ferguson and Mackay are specifically warned of the dangerous storm tide as the cyclone crosses the coast on Tuesday morning. The sea is likely to rise steadily up to a level well above the normal tide, with damaging waves and flooding of some low-lying areas close to the shoreline as the cyclone approaches the coast on Tuesday.

Large waves may also develop along the beachfront. People living in areas likely to be affected by this flooding should take measures to protect their property as much as possible and be prepared to follow instructions regarding evacuation of the area if advised to do so by the authorities.

Areas of heavy rain with the potential to cause severe flash flooding are expected to develop about parts of the northern and central Queensland coast and adjacent inland areas later today and continue through Tuesday.

Widespread daily rainfall totals of 200 mm, with isolated falls of 400 mm, are also likely to lead to major river flooding over a broad area next week, and a Flood Watch is current for coastal catchments between Cardwell and Gladstone, extending inland to the eastern Gulf River catchments.

People on the Whitsunday Islands should complete preparations quickly and be prepared to shelter in a safe place. Boats and outside property should be secured using available daylight hours.

People between Cardwell and St Lawrence, and inland to Collinsville and Charters Towers, should immediately commence or continue preparations, especially securing boats and property.

People inland of Lucinda to Mackay including Pentland and Mount Coolon should consider what action they will need to take if the cyclone threat increases.

Professor John D Ginger, Research Director in the Cyclone Testing Station at James Cook University told Gizmodo that houses built in the cyclonic regions of Queensland to improved building standards since the mid-1980s can be expected to withstand wind-loads forecast in Debbie. Some older houses will be vulnerable to damage.

Houses in low-lying coastal regions especially to the south of the crossing, and are subjected to storm surge will be vulnerable to significant damage.

Lydia Buchtmann from the Food Safety Information Council also has some advice - "Prior to a cyclone, make sure you have a stock of non perishable foods in cans and packages, as well as a manual can opener," Buchtmann says.

"Modern refrigeration systems maintain food at safe temperatures. This helps reduce the growth of bacteria on your food which can lead to food poisoning. When there is a power outage, you need to take extra measures to reduce the risk of food-related illness."

It is important to record the time the power went off, Buchtmann points out. When a power cut lasts for more than 4 hours and there is no immediate likelihood of reconnection food safety becomes an important issue.

If you have friends and family in the region, and lose contact with them following the storm - don't panic. Having been through many topic cyclones myself (including Ului and Yasi) I have experienced the power being out, mobile towers going down, and all communications - including road access - being cut off. Sometimes this lasts for a week. The community in these areas know how to work together, support each other, and ensure everyone has generator fuel.

If you're up there, bunker down, my friends. Stay safe - we are all thinking of you.

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