Thousands of people have been warned to brace for impact as Cyclone Jasper steamrolls towards Australia – with residents told to ‘prepare for isolation’ and an island evacuated.
Cyclone Jasper is continuing to track towards the Queensland coast, where it is expected to make landfall as a category 2 system, most likely between Cape Flattery and Cardwell.
The Bureau of Meteorology said there remained a ‘slim chance’ of a severe category 3 impact.
The storm is forecast to bring damaging winds and heavy rainfall that may lead to flash flooding – and there are now fears of a tidal surge.
The Cairns Region has been issued with a Watch and Act notice, warning residents to prepare for isolation before Tuesday afternoon.
The town of Port Douglas has been identified as a possible ‘red zone’ in the case of significant tidal surge impacts from the cyclone. The dotted line shows the path of the cyclone
Cairns has been issued with a Watch and Act notice as the monster storm makes its way to the Queensland coast
‘Very strong winds and heavy rain from Tropical Cyclone Jasper may cause damage across the Cairns region,’ the notice read.
‘This could cut off roads for several days. Help may not be able to reach you quickly when roads are cut off.’
The town of Port Douglas has also been identified as a potential ‘red zone’ in the case of significant tidal surge impacts from the cyclone.
Meanwhile, The Australian Defence Force has evacuated Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) staff from a small island weather station in the path of the storm.
Willis Island, about 450km off the coast of Cairns, is one of the most remote weather bases in the world.
As the cyclone gained momentum off the coast last week, BOM became concerned for the safety of its four employees who live on the station.
The storm is forecast to bring damaging winds and heavy rainfall that may lead to flash flooding – and there are now fears of a tidal surge
Tropical Cyclone Jasper is continuing to track towards the Queensland coast, where it is expected to make landfall as a category two system
The Australian Navy’s guided missile destroyer HMAS Brisbane was diverted from its its operations in the Coral Sea to the tiny island.
On Saturday, a seahawk helicopter was sent to evacuate the BOM staff, completing for trips to get them to safety.
Defence said the emergency evacuation took place amid brutal weather conditions, including three-metre swells and 25-knot winds.
HMAS Brisbane is on its way to Sydney, where the BOM personnel will disembark.
There are also fears on Palm Island – where approximately 2,500 people live – that it could be directly in the firing line.
Council chief executive Michael Bissell said the island was low on sandbags as the weather had stopped them being shipped over from the mainland.
‘We’re probably a bit short of some non-perishable foods if it went for any longer than a few days, but … we’ve got good support from relevant agencies,’ he added.
‘The store is well stocked, the hospital is well stocked, there’s staff on, the police are well staffed. We’ve spoken to SES and QFES regularly just making sure we have what we need.
‘We’ve got about 15,000 litres of diesel there, that’s enough for two and a half weeks of general use.’
Winds from the cyclone could extend as far north as Cape Melville, on the eastern coast of Cape York Peninsula, and as far south as Townsville, the Bureau of Meteorology warned.
The Australian Defence Force has evacuated Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) staff from a small island weather station on Willis Island
BOM staff were welcomed on board HMAS Brisbane after their evacuation from Willis Island
A tropical cyclone watch has been issued for Cape Melville to Townsville, including Cairns and Cooktown with a flood watch also in place in these areas.
Heavy rainfall was also expected to develop along the coast from late Tuesday ahead of Jasper likely making landfall on Wednesday between Cooktown and Cardwell where it could strengthen into a category three cyclone.
Flooding was possible for the north tropical coast, parts of the Cape York Peninsula and Gulf Country from Wednesday, the bureau warned.
A severe weather warning for damaging winds was also in place for Monday for parts of the Herbert, lower Burdekin, central coast and Whitsundays districts, with the bureau predicting gusts of up to 90km/h in some areas.
Jasper is not only the first tropical cyclone of the season but is also believed to be the first to form off Australia in December during an El Nino.