A tropical cyclone off the coast of northern Australia was upgraded to the "severe" category three on Thursday, hours before it was set to make landfall along the coastline bordering the Great Barrier Reef, the second such cyclone in the area since December.

The Bureau of Meteorology said tropical cyclone Kirrily will cross the coast near the tourist town of Townsville on Thursday night, bringing with it wind gusts of up to 165 km (103 miles) per hour.

Intense rain accompanying the cyclone may cause life threatening flash flooding in the storm's path and those within 100 km (62 miles) of coastline north and south of Townsville should shelter in a safe place, the Bureau said.

Queensland Premier Steven Miles said on Thursday before the storm was upgraded that residents should prepare to be without power for potentially days. A day earlier he announced 100 extra emergency staff had been sent to the area.

"We're prepared and ready for the worst, now we wait and hope for the best," he said at a news conference. "Our message to Queenslanders is now is the time to make sure you are ready."

Category three storms are two rungs away from the most dangerous and can destroy caravans as well as lay waste to crops and trees.

The latest storm warnings come roughly a month after tropical cyclone Jasper caused widespread damage across the region.

Townsville airport was closed on Thursday and public events for the Australia Day holiday on Friday have been cancelled.

(Reporting by Lewis Jackson; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)