Tropical Cyclone Kirrily: Crosses coast near Townsville as category 3 storm

Tropical Cyclone Kirrily has crossed the coast near one of Queensland’s biggest cities as a category 3 storm, realising the worst fears of authorities.

Thousands of residents around Townsville are now bracing for their worst fears of 170km/h wind gusts.

The warning zone extends from Innisfail to Bowen, not including Bowen, including Townsville and extending inland to Charters Towers, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

Kirrily crossed the coast about 9pm Queensland time, with sustained winds near the centre of 120 km/h with wind gusts to 165 km/h. An hour later, she had lost intensity and was revised down to a category 2 by the Bureau of Meteorology.

Coastal and island communities in northern and central Queensland are already bracing for possible power outages amid warnings Kirrily’s wind gusts could uproot trees and down power lines.

Fierce waves have lashed coastal communities over the day, with Premier Steven Miles pre-emptively declaring the freak weather event a “disaster”.

In its updated advice at 9pm, the BOM said Severe Tropical Cyclone Kirrily was tracking generally west southwest and was crossing just to the northwest of Townsville as a Category 3 system. Kirrily will then weaken as it moves inland.

“From Friday, the system is likely to track further inland as a tropical low, resulting in heavy to intense rain and possible damaging winds to parts of the northern interior and western Queensland,” the BOM said.

Moderate rainfall totals – the highest around 100mm at Clarke Range, inland from Mackay – were recorded on Thursday afternoon.

Sustained winds have also been “incredibly” high and would push onto inland areas later in the day, Bureau meteorologist Miriam Bradbury said.

She said the combination of wind and rain had the potential to bring down power lines, leading to possible road closures and power outages.

The resulting rain depression will be pushed into the central and western parts of Queensland over the following days, once the cyclone weakens.

The bureau has already warned that damaging gales are occurring over the Whitsunday Islands and will extend to the mainland on Thursday, while isolated falls of up to 300mm of rain could descend on other regions in the coming days.

In footage captured by 9 News, wild waves lash the foreshore at Bowen, north of Mackay, over Wednesday and Thursday as conditions continue to ramp up.

Those same winds are expected to extend northward to coastal and island communities between Ayr and Ingham throughout the afternoon and evening.

They may extend up to Innisfail if the system takes a track further north, the bureau has warned.

Earlier on Thursday, Bureau meteorologist Angus Hines said some wind gusts along the Whitsundays region had already clocked 102km/h.

Others at Flinders Reef reached 94km/h.

Mr Hines said the winds would spread throughout the area, prompting a warning that power lines could be downed and trees could be uprooted.

“The strongest gusts are expected late Thursday and early Friday before that wind will start to fade away,” he explained.

Mr Hines said ocean water could also be pushed onto low-lying roads due to surging storm tides.

“That’s most likely between Townsville and Mackay at high tide,” he said.

For the next few days, widespread 100-200mm rainfall totals are expected from the coast to the Northern Territory border as the cyclone weakens into a tropical rain depression.

Isolated spots could cop up to 300mm of rain, Mr Hines said.

“That amount is certainly going to contribute to the possibility of riverine flooding,” he said.

“We still have a broad flood watch in place across northern Queensland covering almost all rivers in this part of the country.”

On Thursday, Mr Miles said authorities were “prepared and ready for the worst” and would now “wait and hope for the best”.

He explained the state had pre-emptively declared the weather event a disaster to seek assistance from the federal government.

“We’ve already received 146 calls for assistance from the SES … most of them asking for assistance with sandbagging,” Mr Miles said.

Townsville residents have already taken preparations, with businesses and hundreds of schools closed, while the Townsville airport will be closed from noon.

Pre-emptive disaster declarations would allow emergency services to have the appropriate powers to assist impacted communities, state disaster co-ordinator Deputy Commissioner Shane Chelepy said.

He reiterated the next few days would be “critical” for residents.

“Police and emergency services doorknocked all the low-lying areas around Townsville and provided advice to residents in those areas,” Mr Chelepy said.

Mr Chelepy urged people to stay off the roads ahead of the flooding and move from their homes if they didn’t feel safe.

“We will start to see heavy rain and winds over the next 24 hours,” he said.

“Be patient, work with emergency services over the next 24 hours and if you need assistance, call triple-0.”

The coastal town is part of the affected warning zone issued by the bureau that now extends from Innisfail to Sarina, including Townsville, Mackay, the Whitsunday Islands and the inland city of Charters Towers.

“Destructive wind gusts up to 140km/h are expected to develop about coastal and island communities between Ayr and Bowen, during (Thursday) evening extending north to Ingham, including Townsville,” the bureau’s warning states.

“Heavy rainfall which may lead to flash flooding is likely to develop about coastal areas between Innisfail and Sarina during the day before spreading to inland areas late today and continuing during Friday.”

From Friday, the system will weaken inland and track further as a tropical low, bringing heavy to intense rain in parts of the northern interior and western Queensland.

The bureau has urged people between Ingham and Bowen, including Townsville and Ayr, to complete their disaster preparations and quickly shelter.

Senior meteorologist Laura Boekel said the category 2 winds were strong enough to damage houses and knock down power lines, urging people to beware of any fallen lines.

She said the heaviest rainfall, which could lead to “life-threatening” flash flooding, would occur at the centre of the system when it makes landfall.

“We could see isolated totals of up to 300mm as this system crosses the coast,” Ms Boekel said.

“It will continue to bring rainfall even when it loses cyclone strength.

“We’re encouraging all Queenslanders to be across the forecast this weekend. We could be seeing showers and storms across the southeast that are producing more rainfall than usual because of the system in the north.”

Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill said more than 20,000 sandbags had been distributed to Townsville residents.

She said no storm surges had been expected for the region.

“If we get the most dangerous amount of rain, we’ll see the dam fill to 108 or 110 per cent, which means we’ll only have minor openings that can be contained in the river.”

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