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New Zealand will escape the destructive Cyclone Yasi bearing down on northern Queensland, says weather analyst Philip Duncan.

Mr Duncan, from the firm WeatherWatch, said widespread damage and severe flooding was an unavoidable scenario for the region between Cairns and Innisfail.

Once it made landfall Yasi would fall apart but it would leave behind "a very long 12 to 18 hours of incredibly severe weather".

Mr Duncan said wind gusts in the category 5 cyclone would be brutal. They would reach an average speed of 215km/h and could hit 300km/h, enough to lift a Boeing 747 jumbo jet off the ground if it was sitting on the tarmac with its engines off and pointing into the wind.

"It could be fully laden as well, that is the scary part."

Air New Zealand said Cairns Airport was due to close at 1pm (NZ time) and it had cancelled two flights NZ775 from Auckland to Cairns, and NZ776 from Cairns to Auckland.

Mr Duncan said the cyclone would not push a large high in the Tasman out of the way but would skirt it instead and miss New Zealand.

He said as a weather expert, he found a category 5 cyclone as "incredibly scary".

"I love cyclones and hurricanes and am fascinated by them, but I don't know if I would ever want to be in a category 5 storm.

"We are talking about buildings that will be completely blown apart, roofs torn off new buildings that should be able to stand up to big storms."

He said the sea surge would be two metres which was a huge concern.

New Zealand had never been hit by such a fierce storm.

"The closest I can think of is the Wahine disaster storm in 1968."

That storm sank the interisland ferry Wahine when it entered Wellington Harbour, killing 51 people.

Wellington recorded winds of 280km/h that day, similar to the winds they are going to get in Queensland."

Meanwhile, an unrelated severe weather warning has been issued for Westland, Canterbury, Wairarapa, Wellington, Marlborough, Hawkes Bay, Fiordland, Southland and Otago today.

The warning included heavy rain and severe west or northwest gales in exposed places from Canterbury to central Hawke's Bay.

He said the winds had the potential to damage trees, powerlines and insecure buildings. Driving conditions could be hazardous especially for high-sided vehicles and motorcycles

- NZPA