Tropical Cyclone Owen has crossed the Queensland coast as a category three system, bringing wind gusts of up to 170 kilometres per hour and making landfall early this morning south of Kowanyama.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said it weakened as it approached the coast and had been downgraded to a category two and then a category one system, with wind gusts of up to 140 kilometres per hour.
“We expect by noon time or early afternoon [for it] to weaken below cyclone strength, BOM’s Gabriel Branescu said.
Diana Eadie from BOM said forecasters were expecting it to move out past the Cardwell area and there was a low chance of it redeveloping.
“Regardless, the impacts are still going to be significant,” she said.
“There’s still a lot of uncertainty with the movement of this system. We’re expecting it to move south-east and over the water and run parallel to the coast for the next 24 to 48 hours.”
She said the heaviest rainfall was going to be largely confined to the east coast, rather than south-western parts of Queensland.
South-east Queensland was also due for a storm.
“We’re looking at a risk of severe thunderstorms with large to very large hail stones, damaging winds and some locally heavy falls associated with this,” she said.
“We could also see those more likely around the southern interior and the south Burnett region, but also a risk around the Brisbane area and the Gold Coast as well.”
Heavy rainfall, which may lead to flash flooding, is expected about the southeast Gulf of Carpentaria coast and will extend across Cape York Peninsula as the cyclone moves inland during the day.
A severe weather warning is in place for the North Tropical Coast and Tablelands and parts of Peninsula, Northern Goldfields and Upper Flinders and Herbert and Lower Burdekin Forecast Districts.
Indigenous communities spared from cyclone wrath
Emergency services in the Indigenous community Kowanyama said the area is safe, and residents are able to leave their homes.
Yesterday earlier the town was preparing for a category 4 cyclone.
Queensland state disaster coordinator Bob Gee praised the community efforts of Kowanyama and Pormpuraaw.
“Two small indigenous communities in the Gulf asked for help, they received help. They were prepared, they did lots of hard work and it’s worked for them. Most importantly as a community they came together and opened their doors to each other,” he said.
“I think it’s a remarkable thing what those two small communities what they’ve done over the last 48 to 72 hours and an example to others.”
SES Far North Controller James Gegg said there has been minimal damage after the system lost intensity as it crossed the coast.
“Police in Kowanyama have been doing a drive around and deemed the streets all safe,” he said.
“They’re sounding sirens now on the police vehicles to let the community know they are able to come out of their homes which will obviously be a relief for everyone.”
There have been no reports of damage, but the cyclone brought damaging winds and rain, with falls up to 300 millimetres expected in some areas.
Wind map showing Cyclone Owen tracking south
QFES commissioner Katarina Carroll said it was the “best-case scenarios we’ve seen in a long time”.
“We’re extraordinarily grateful for that … it’d be great if all cyclones behaved like this,” she said.
“But please do not be complacent, particularly in that north-east tropics area where the rains will continue.”
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Mornington Island, Porpuraaw and Kowanyama were safe.
“A big sigh of relief and there’s a lot of happy people I can tell you, not just in the communities, but down here in Brisbane.
“We’re going to be monitoring the system of course over the next 24 hours. The BOM has advised us that in terms of that significant rainfall, we’ll get a better indication between midnight tonight and midday tomorrow.”
“We need everyone to be listening to authorities and making sure that they are safe.”
Farmers relieved no damage on properties
Liz Hutchins and her husband manage a cattle property near Kowanyama, and said they bunkered down with their two children, but the bad weather did not eventuate.
“I have a four-year-old boy. He was excited that it was going to get windy and blow his bike away. But they just slept. They didn’t realise anything was happening,” she said.
“We feel really, really relieved.
“We were dreading walking out this morning and seeing branches and trees and rooves and all sorts of things down, so we couldn’t feel any more relieved.
“Today I think we’re going to have a celebratory coffee.”
BOM: A satellite image of Severe Tropical Cyclone #Owen crossing the #Qld coast this morning. It crossed as a Category 3 around 3 AM. The system has weakened but is still a #cyclone and is heading roughly east south easterly.
Peter Renauldo from the State Emergency Service said drones have been used this morning to check on damage at Pormpuraaw, north of Kowanyama.
“There appears to be minimal damage to Pormpuraaw at this stage,” he said.
“We will probably be able to confirm that a little bit better when the guys are able to go street by street and door by door just to check everything out, but so things are looking quite good for Pormpuraaw at this stage.”
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Deputy Commissioner Mike Wassing said crews are inspecting communities now.
“There looks to be some trees down and some possible power lines down,” he said.
“But it looks like a good outcome.”
“We’re now watching Cyclone Owen move across the land mass and then back out onto the east coast and now very conscious of the amount of rainfall that we get in the subsequent tracking of the soon-to-be ex-cyclone.
Mr Wassing said there can be still be storms embedded in the system.
“But there is risk of flash flooding and we’re very conscious that’s the start of school holidays. There’ll be a lot of travelling public,” he said.
“Watch out for rainfall, watch out for flash flooding. Do not drive through flooded waters at all.”