Tropical cyclone strengthens as it bears down on coast

Laine Clark |

An “unusual” tropical cyclone may threaten the Queensland coast by early next week.

A region in the state’s north has been identified as the area most at risk of impact after Tropical Cyclone Jasper strengthened to a severe category three system on Wednesday.

It is forecasted to strengthen into a category four on Thursday and possibly category five by Thursday night as it slowly moves south after developing over the Solomon Sea, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

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.

“It is rare to see a December cyclone let alone one where we do have El Nino,” a bureau spokesperson told AAP.

“It is unusual to be seeing this. There aren’t too many cyclones we have seen through the month of December let alone early December.”

Jasper was about 1400km northeast of Cairns off the state’s far north coast earlier on Wednesday.

It is expected to track south-southwest into the Coral Sea and intensify overnight.

Jasper is likely to weaken during the weekend but the bureau said it would still be a tropical cyclone when it moved towards the north Queensland coast early next week.

“At this stage the highest risk of a cyclone impact is in the region north of Mackay,” a bureau statement said.

“The bureau will issue regular updates to help keep communities informed as the situation evolves over the coming days.     

“Communities in the region north of Mackay are advised to review their cyclone plan.”

The bureau earlier said the slow-tracking cyclone might provide plenty of time for communities to batten down the hatches before a potential impact.

“It is a pretty slow track at this point, in some ways it is giving people time to prepare – having a bit of preparation time for this cyclone as it does approach the Queensland coast is in people’s favour,” a spokesperson said.

The cyclone threat has prompted the bureau to postpone an outage at a north Queensland weather part of upgrade plans.

The bureau has begun work to install new technology for the Townsville radar.

To complete the upgrade it had planned to turn off the Townsville radar during the day from December 11 to 18 and January 15 to March 8.

The planned outage had earned the ire of federal member for Herbert Phillip Thompson.

“We have a cyclone forecast to potentially arrive on the exact day the Bureau of Meteorology wants to turn the Townsville radar off,” he said.

“This is absolutely unacceptable – it puts the community at risk.”

The bureau had said during the planned outage it would turn on the old radar in the event of severe weather but Mr Thompson said he was concerned the “temperamental equipment” might not work again.