Far North Queensland is bracing itself for what is expected to be the most severe cyclone since Yasi devastated homes and holiday resorts in 2011.
The weather bureau has warned that Tropical Cyclone Ita could strengthen to a category four system before crossing the coast around Friday evening.
The bureau says the cyclone, which was about 710 kilometres north-east of Cooktown at 7:30pm on Wednesday, is expected to bring very destructive winds when it makes landfall.
The system had picked up speed and was now moving west toward the Queensland coast at about 10 kilometres per hour.
You can see the current warnings on the .
A cyclone watch has been issued for Cape York communities between Port Douglas and Cape Grenville, north of Cairns.
If it continues on its current path, the bureau expects it to steer clear of populated areas.
But forecaster Michael Knepp says if it tracks down the coast "a few major populated areas are going to be affected".
"This is the most intense tropical storm since Yasi, so we're always going to get a little bit tense about this," he said.
Torrential rain and destructive winds of up to 280 kilometres per hour are expected.
Sea levels are expected to rise significantly above the normal tide between Cape Grenville and Cairns, and heavy downpours may lead to flooding and flash flooding in the Peninsula and Tablelands districts as early as Thursday.
The Great Barrier Reef resort of Lizard Island has been evacuated as a precaution and will be closed until Sunday.
State Emergency Services says communities including Port Douglas and Cooktown could be in for a rough time, but locals know what to expect.
"I think there's great response from the communities directly in the path, especially Lockhard River. They've made a lot of arrangements, through to Coen and Cooktown," spokesman Wayne Coutts said.
Emergency Services Minister Jack Demspey says authorities will "plan for the worst and hope for the best".
"The logistics and the manpower have already gone into those places to assist the community," he added.
The town of Coen, north of Cairns, has run out of diesel, but Cook Shire Mayor Peter Scott says there is enough to run the local generator and supply emergency vehicles.
"Think very seriously about going north with the cyclone coming in," he said.
Cairns Mayor Bob Manning says disaster services are preparing in case Cyclone Ita tracks further south and hits the city.
"I remember with Yasi just before we went to bed that night the reports were showing it coming pretty much at Cairns," he said.
"I checked a few hours later and it was starting to turn down the coast a bit - you really don't know."
© ABC 2014
13:25 EDT After a fairly cloudy morning, Sydney's skies are clearing nicely for a starry but cool night for Carols at the Domain.