Cyclone Nora has slightly weakened and is expected to hit the western coast of Cape York as a category 3 storm, the latest modelling from the Bureau of Meteorology shows.
There were fears it may intensify into a category 4 cyclone with very destructive winds gusting up to 270 km/h and on Saturday afternoon it was rated a category 3 system.
But dry air from Cape York has weakened Nora, with Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it would likely hit land about lunchtime on Sunday.
It is now forecast to cross the coast around Kowanyama, south of Weipa, and will also impact Pormpuraaw , before tracking south.
“This is a severe cyclone,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“There are going to be very strong winds.”
If the 100km-wide core of Nora hits populated areas, roof and structural damage could be caused by winds gusting up to 195 km/h.
Heavy rainfall and flash flooding is still expected, with estimates up to 200mm of rain could fall daily, with isolated pockets possibly being hit with 300mm.
Minor flooding is likely to occur from the Cape possibly down to Townsville.
As part of extensive preparations, swift water rescue crews have been stationed along the Gulf and up the western coast of Cape York.
Ms Palaszczuk urged the estimated 10,000 people in regions forecast to be affected later on Saturday and on Sunday to seek shelter in strong structures above storm tide areas.
“Once you are in your homes this evening, you should not leave your homes,” she said.
“The winds are going to pick up in those communities and we want you to remain safe.”
Mayors are working with the state government on plans to supply areas that will be hit by Nora and could be cut off for days after.
On Saturday afternoon Nora was 155km southwest of Weipa, moving southeast at 20km/h.
BoM Queensland manager Bruce Gunn said it was good news Nora was no longer expected to intensify into a category 4 storm.
“But it’s still a very severe category system with very destructive winds at its core,” he said.
People in the forecast path of Nora still have a few hours to prepare and state disaster coordinator deputy commissioner Bob Gee advised they use the time wisely to ensure their safety.
“Lock down tonight, safe and secure, take your supplies with you and stay there until it is safe to come out,” he said.
SES leaders and extra police have been deployed to remote communities to assist but when Nora hits it will be too dangerous for anyone to be outside.