Cairns Airport to close early as Tropical Cyclone Yasi strengthens and increases speed

By John Walton, February 2 2011
Cairns Airport to close early as Tropical Cyclone Yasi strengthens and increases speed

Severe Tropical Cyclone Yasi, now a maximum-force Category Five storm with winds of more than 250 km/h, has increased speed and is now due to make landfall tonight between Cairns and Innisfail, bringing devastating winds of over 200 km/h to a wide area.

Cairns Airport will close at 1000 local time today, earlier than previously expected, with the last flights before the storm leaving the airport just after 0800. 

Airlines are scrambling to get their aircraft out of harm's way before what senior Bureau of Metorology forecaster Gordon Banks is calling "horrific" winds, with projections that Yasi could reach wind gusts of over 320 km/h.

The airport, to the north of Cairns, is only 3 metres above sea level, with runways and terminal buildings just 200 metres inland from the sea. That makes it likely to be seriously affected by what the Bureau of Meteorology is calling an "extremely dangerous sea level rise" as the storm surge pushes up the Barron River.

The BOM is warning that "the sea is likely to steadily rise up to a level which will be very dangerously above the normal tide, with extermely damaging waves, strong currents and flooding of low-lying areas extending some way inland." 

Yasi's strongest winds are currently forecast to make landfall around 2200 on Wednesday, with the storm surge expected to combine with the high tide at 2026, inundating coastal areas -- including the airport.

All flights to and from Cairns after 1000 on Wednesday are cancelled. Jetstar, Skytrans and Cathay Pacific have also cancelled flights on Thursday.

Most airlines have waived their usual fees for changing flights for travellers affected by Tropical Cyclone Yasi. We've contacted all the major airlines and have a full roundup of their policies, with dates and the relevant terms and conditions

Business travellers overseas who are concerned about the situation back in Queensland will be able to watch ABC News 24 streaming video live from 1300 AEDT today, once ABC lifts the "geoblock" preventing computers abroad from watching the news channel. 

Before that, our guide on how to watch Australian TV while overseas shows you how to get around the geoblock using a VPN (virtual private network).

Australian Business Traveller will continue updating our news with specifics for the business traveller community at and on Twitter: @AusBT

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

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