Severe tropical cyclone Jasper has started to move towards the Australian coast and is tipped to make landfall in the middle of next week, bringing destructive winds and heavy rain.
As of Saturday afternoon, the category four system was in the Coral Sea about 1000 kilometres east of Cairns and had started to swing towards northern Queensland.
Earlier in the day, a rescue helicopter safely evacuated four Bureau of Meteorology scientists from a remote weather station on Willis Island in the path of the wild weather, about 450km off Cairns.
The cyclone is tipped to weaken to a category two system on Monday but may then intensify again on Wednesday as it approaches the coast, according to senior meteorologist Angus Hines.
He said it was likely to cross somewhere between Townsville and Cooktown but other scenarios were still possible including a crossing further north.
"Wherever Jasper crosses it will be a significant weather event likely to bring damaging to destructive winds, heavy persistent rain that will lead to flooding, a storm surge along the coast and very dangerous conditions out over the water with large waves," Mr Hines said.
Queensland Police Acting Deputy Commissioner Shane Chelepy warned households north of Mackay to prepare their emergency kits.
The state disaster centre has moved to alert level, with local and district co-ordinators from Mackay to Cairns making preparations.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services crews, including swift water rescue teams, are also primed to be deployed to cyclone-hit areas.
The system is the first tropical cyclone to form in Queensland waters in December in an El Nino year, which generally leads to fewer such weather events.
Australian Associated Press