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Severe weather warning still current for Far North Queensland as Tropical Cyclone Penny downgraded

By Laura Gartry and Melinda Howells, Tuesday January 1, 2019 - 21:59 EDT
ABC licensed image
A satellite image of Tropical Cyclone Penny over the eastern Gulf of Carpentaria. - ABC licensed

Strong winds continued to batter the Cape York Peninsula on Tuesday evening, despite Tropical Cyclone Penny being downgraded on Tuesday evening.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) warned that severe weather remained across Far North Queensland in an updated alert at 7.45pm (local time).

Tropical Cyclone Penny made landfall earlier on the Queensland coast between Weipa and Thud Point as a category one system, bringing heavy rain and damaging winds.

"Ex-Tropical Cyclone Penny is expected to continue moving eastwards across Cape York Peninsula tonight before moving into the northwest Coral Sea during Wednesday morning," a BOM spokesperson said.

"Penny is now rated as a high chance of reforming into a tropical cyclone in the northwest Coral Sea by late Wednesday, but by this stage, the system should be well offshore of the Queensland east coast."

Despite this, severe weather warnings were still in place across the state's far north, with heavy rain, damaging winds and elevated tides forecast to continue overnight and into Wednesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, BOM senior forecaster Gabriel Branescu said the cyclone between Cape Keerweer to Cape York would be "short lived".

"It will move quickly over land just south of Weipa as a category one system, but still strong enough to carry 90kph winds, and gusts to up 120kph," he said.

"It should weaken pretty quick but then it'll pop out in the northern coral sea today … or tomorrow."

Queensland Fire and Emergency Services deployed extra swift water rescue crews and co-ordination staff to affected communities on Cape York.

Acting Deputy Commissioner Steve Smith said residents should be prepared for heavy rain, damaging winds and flash flooding.

"Communities from Pormpuraaw up to the Cape can expect weather to deteriorate as we move through today and in the coming days," he said.

"We've got some resources moved in to support local communities and we urge residents to do the preparation required now to put themselves into a safe position and to monitor the conditions as they unfold.

"It is a community that's obviously used to experiencing cyclone activity, however we need people to remain vigilant and avoid complacency and prepare their properties, check on their neighbours and friends."

Weipa Town Authority chairman Michael Rowland said flights had been cancelled, the harbour was closed, and roads in and out of Weipa had been cut off.

"[We] definitely started to see an increase in wind and rain activity and even this morning we're starting to see a few squalls coming through," he said.

"You definitely feel there's something brewing."

Weipa marine rescue coordinator Bill Garnaut said residents had been preparing by removing hazards, including a pontoon that took four hours to move from the water.

"It's squeaky clean what happens in Weipa, everyone seems to have their roles," he said.

"The people up here have become quite resilient as far as that's concerned and they don't really need to get a lot of things ready because they seem to stay ready.

"Weipa's one of those places that is able to weather a storm, excuse the pun."

SES and swift water rescue crews have also been deployed to the Indigenous community of Aurakun, south of Weipa.

"The problem is that there has been a lot of lead-up rain so the ground is very wet and soggy," SES area controller Peter Rinaudo said.

"So any winds hitting trees that have unsecured root systems can [cause them to] fall over," he said.

Roads are cut into the township of about 1,000 people, but Mr Rinaudo said they were well prepared.

"We have a well-equipped store and just had a barge of supplies arrive," he said.

Mr Rinaudo said it was positive for residents the cyclone was due to cross in the afternoon.

"They sound 10 times worse at night," he said.

"At this stage the likely crossing won't coincide with a high tide anywhere on the western cape, so we shouldn't see any inundation based on that, so that's one less thing to worry about."

Severe weather warnings are current for far north Queensland, including the Torres Strait.

A flood watch remains current for coastal catchments north of Cardwell, including catchments across the Cape York Peninsula.


© ABC 2019

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