Cyclone Oma changes course again
Forecasters say it's becoming less likely that Cyclone Oma will cross the Queensland coast, but people are still being warned to expect high winds and dangerous swell.
Oma was a weak category two storm early this morning, sitting about 950km northeast off Brisbane.
It's expected to continue its slow track towards Brisbane, but at this stage the cyclone is expected to remain offshore. Earlier forecasters had warned it could cross the coast.
But that doesn't mean the state will be spared its effects, with warnings issued for high winds and dangerous swell coinciding with king tides along the east coast from today.
Surf lifesavers say the building swell is likely to force the closure of beaches on the Gold and Sunshine coasts.
Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Jonty Hall said Oma will maintain its slow 10km/h path towards the coast until tomorrow.
After that, its behaviour is less predictable.
The worst effects are expected to be galeforce winds, very high swells that could erode beaches, and the possibility of heavy rain.
"We are starting to see the main swell packet from Oma starting to arrive on the south coast of Queensland now," Mr Hall told the ABC.
"That's likely to increase in the next couple of days."
A severe weather warning is in place for Queensland's east coast from the town of Seventeen Seventy to the NSW border.
"Dangerous surf conditions are forecast to develop about the east coast of Fraser Island and Wide Bay coast north of Bargara later this afternoon and evening," the bureau warned.
"These conditions are then expected to extend south over the remaining southeastern Queensland coast during this evening and Friday. Beach erosion is likely to continue with the hazardous marine conditions."
Weather prediction models currently suggest Oma will be 300km off the Sunshine Coast on Saturday, but for how long, and where it goes next is anyone's guess.
The Courier Mail reported there were as many as 20 possible paths the cyclone could take.
"The beaches will get beaten up and there will be rain and flooding, particularly south of Bundaberg. If it crosses the coast, we could see 500mm in some areas in one day, but it might head inland and help farmers," BoM forecaster Adam Blazak told the publication.
Despite weakening, the Category 2 system will bring with it gale force winds and heavy rainfall.
Authorities are warning people not to panic but to prepare themselves and their property for a weekend of wild weather.
A flood watch is in place for catchments from south of Gladstone to the New South Wales border.
"The closer she comes to the coast, the more significant that rainfall will be and the further inland it will push," forecaster Lauren Pattie told the ABC.
It was unusual, but not unprecedented, for cyclones to track as far south as Oma could eventually get to.
Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Adam Blazak said there was still uncertainty about which path the storm will ultimately take, but it could make landfall on the weekend.
"A crossing is not certain yet, and there are scenarios where it may linger off the coast," Mr Blazak said.
The weather system is already bringing hazardous surf conditions and abnormally high tides.
The longer it stays offshore, the greater the potential damage to beaches as waves of up to six metres pound the shoreline, he said.
Some coastal areas could be lashed by 90kmh winds and daily rainfall totals of up to 300mm if the cyclone continues its current path.
Mr Blazak said it could also potentially bring much-needed rain to drought-affected inland areas of the southeast corner.
"You don't really want a crossing," he said.
"But that would be maybe a better scenario than if it lingers off the coast. It would end up decaying and dropping rainfall in those dry areas."
A severe weather warning remains in place from the Fraser Coast to the NSW border.
As Oma makes its way south west, it enters the "Australian area of responsibility", according to Bureau meteorologist Jonathan How.
Forecasters on Wednesday morning played down the threat of the cyclone but its sudden change of direction has amplified the risk.
Mr How told news.com.au the "high-impact weather" was expected to lash Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast and could hit as far south as the NSW border.
He said residents of the affected areas could expected "very heavy rainfall, gale force winds and storm surges" and these conditions, along with abnormally high tides, could cause flooding.
Queensland has not seen cyclonic conditions like this for some time, so Mr How said it was unclear how severe the effect of Cyclone Oma could be.
Queensland water police issued warning to swimmers, fishers and boaters to stay out of waters and away from dangerous areas for "at least the next five days" on Wednesday afternoon.
Areas in northern NSW have been issued with warnings, including Ballina and Byron Bay, where residents have been cautioned of rising tides, ocean swell and dangerous surf.
An abnormally high-tide warning has been issued for Ballina.
A hazardous surf warning has been issued for Tweed Heads, Hastings Point, Byron Bay, Ballina and Brunswick Heads.
New forecasting images released on Wednesday show the predicted path of Oma.
The modelling says that while there remains "uncertainty associated with tropical cyclone forecasting", it shows "the range of likely tracks of the cyclone centre".
"Due to the uncertainty in the future movement, the indicated winds will almost certainly extend to regions outside the rings on this map," the Bureau website advises.