Tropical Cyclone Nora developed into a category three on Friday night, and was expected to reach category four as it moved into the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Warnings were in place for all Queensland areas from Karumba to Mapoon, including Weipa and Mornington Island, as it moved southeast at close to 18km/h.
Earlier warnings for the Northern Territory side of the gulf had been cancelled.
The storm was already producing winds of 155km/h near its centre and gusts up to 220km/h, speeds at the upper end of a category three.
Gulf cyclones were more unpredictable, and a coastal crossing of the Cape York Peninsula was possible anywhere south of Weipa on Saturday afternoon or Sunday, the Bureau of Meteorology said.
It was predicted to spend several days skirting the coastline before making landfall.
“As the cyclone approaches the coast, a storm tide is expected between Mapoon and Gilbert River Mouth,” the bureau warned on Saturday morning.
“Large waves may produce minor flooding along the foreshore. People living in areas likely to be affected by this flooding should take measures to protect their property as much as possible and be prepared to help their neighbours.”
Queensland’s emergency services commissioner, Katarina Carroll, said rapid response teams were being assembled in preparation, including swift-water rescue specialists stationed along the Gulf and up the western coast of the cape.
“These crews will have the ability to fly into any area requiring assistance within four hours of being notified and will be self-sustaining for 48 hours,” she said on Friday.
An initital flood watch was in place for coastal catchments between Townsville and Cape Tribulation and for the Gulf rivers and Cape York Peninsula.
The bureau said recent monsoon activity had “primed” catchment areas for river level rises, and some communities could find themselves cut off.
The forecast winds were strong enough to cause roof and structural damage if Nora hit a populated area.
No cyclone has crossed the coast in the forecast area since 2001, but the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said she was happy with the preparations.
State Emergency Services personnel and extra police had been deployed to remote communities, and Palaszczuk said regional mayors would be updated every three hours.
Schools could be closed next week, she said, after a meeting with the disaster management committee on Friday afternoon.
This year’s cyclone season has been particularly active.
On Saturday, another cyclone, named Iris, formed near the Solomon Islands. Iris was a category one, but was predicted to increase to a category two.
Last week, the category two cyclone Marcus hit the city of Darwin, bringing down hundreds of trees and power lines, damaging homes and buildings , and cutting off electricity and water, in the most damaging event in 30 years.
Marcus moved across the top of Australia and out to the Indian Ocean where it intensified to an enormous category five storm, with wind gusts up to 325km/h. It was the strongest storm to form in Australian waters in more than a decade. It has since diminished to a category three and is expected to weaken as it approaches the WA coast.