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Tropical Cyclone Ita Hits Northeast Australia

Updated April 11, 2014

UPDATED By WeatherBug Sr. Meteorologist, James West

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Hurricane season may still be a month or more away in the U.S., but tropical northeastern Australia is getting hit by a major tropical cyclone today and early Saturday. Severe Tropical Cyclone Ita, equivalent to a hurricane in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific, is packing winds equivalent to a Category 4 to 5 hurricane as it slams into northeastern Queensland.

As of 8 a.m. EDT (10 p.m. Friday in Australia), Ita was located along the northeast Queensland coast 40 miles north of Cooktown, Australia, and 135 miles north of Cairns. This is approximated 1,700 miles north-northwest of Sydney, Australia. It was moving south-southwest at about 5 mph.

The storm is packing sustained winds of about 140 to 145 mph with gusts to 180 mph, making it a Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. Ita has a minimum central pressure of 930 mb or 27.46 inches of mercury.

The cyclone will move the southwest across the tropical and very rural northeastern Australia, gradually weakening as it moves west of Cairns, the largest city in that part of Australia.

Cyclone Warnings are in place for coastal areas from Cape Melville to Cardwell, including the cities of Cooktown and Cairns.

Wind will be a major issue at landfall, and Ita is likely to be among the strongest cyclones to make landfall on the Australian coastline. Sustained winds of 130 to 150 mph could cause severe damage to the Aboriginal communities of the region. Strong waves and swells are also expected onshore, with the potential for waves that could exceed 25 feet along Australia`s northeastern coast. This could also cause damage to the near-shore, underwater reefs, including portions of the Great Barrier Reef.

Ita is likely to sweep around inland, moving just west of Cooktown and Cairns and weakening to a depression before slides eastward and back out in the Coral Sea. Therefore, in addition to wind fears near landfall, heavy rain will also be a concern along and on the eastern edge of its track for a few days. Rainfall totals of 7 to 10 inches will be expected along the Queensland coast, including Cairns, through the weekend.

Tropical activity in other parts of the world is a reminder that basins closer to the U.S. will be ramping up soon. The Eastern Pacific basin`s hurricane season is a little more than a month away, with the official start there of May 15. The Atlantic basin follows suit about two weeks later on June 1. It`s never too early to start thinking about hurricane preparedness for this summer - gathering supplies, including water, canned food and batteries; and considering numerous evacuation routes in case your primary one is blocked or not available.

Stick with WeatherBug throughout the summer for the latest on the tropics, and be sure to keep WeatherBug active to receive the latest severe weather alerts in your neighborhood and get the latest updates anywhere on Twitter.

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Satellite Image: NASA provided image of Tropical Cyclone Ita Friday. (NASA Goddard's MODIS Rapid Response Team)

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