The storm is approaching the west Pilbara coast with landfall expected between Exmouth and Mardie early Friday morning.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) said there were sustained winds of 95 kilometres per hour near the centre of the cyclone and gusts up to 130kph.
The BoM expects the system will then continue to move south before weakening.
Destructive gusts in excess of 150 kilometres per hour could develop near the west Pilbara coast late on Thursday evening.
The BoM said the system had rapidly developed over Wednesday afternoon as it headed south towards the mainland.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services issued a blue alert for people in or near communities between Whim Creek to Coral Bay, extending inland to Pannawonica.
The warning applies to residents in Roebourne, Karratha, Dampier, Onslow, Pannawonica, Whim Creek, Wickham, Point Samson, and Exmouth.
DFES said people in those areas should prepare for cyclonic conditions and organise an emergency kit.
A blue alert is the first stage of cyclone warning issued by DFES and it warns people to prepare for dangerous weather.
Perth Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre’s Brad Santos said the winds would be damaging.
“There is uncertainty with the track and intensity of tropical cyclones,” he said.
“Certainly communities along the west Pilbara coast should be vigilant and our latest forecast track map has it passing between Onslow and Exmouth during Friday morning, but with the uncertainty it may pass slightly to the west or a little further to the east.”
Exmouth’s Shire president Turk Shales said he expects a red alert lockdown to be enforced on the town by Thursday evening.
He said the town hall on Maidstone Crescent was being prepared as an evacuation centre.
“When it gets to yellow alert, if you feel uncomfortable about the house you live in, make your way to the cyclone shelter which is the town hall,” he said.
Mr Shales said he was concerned about how the cyclone may impact Carnarvon, which experienced a major flood in December 2010 due to a tropical low that passed through the region.
“There still is a big worry for our friends down in Carnarvon because the Gascoyne River is at five metres already, the last thing they want is another three or four metres of water coming through that joint,” he said.
“I really feel for them at the moment because it looks like after it hits us, even though it’s going to reduce to category one, it’s going to travel inland after Coral Bay, and of course [the water] will go straight back into the Gascoyne River.”
Resources companies have started evacuating staff from offshore rigs as a they prepare for the cyclone.
An Apache Energy spokesman said the company had started evacuating non-essential staff from its offshore operations.
Apache said it would continue to closely monitor all facilities during the passage of the tropical low.
A Chevron spokeswoman said the company was working with its contractors to make the necessary precautionary arrangements at its construction, drilling and production sites in the Pilbara.
She said the oil and gas giant’s number one priority was the health and safety of its people.
A Rio Tinto spokeswoman said the company was monitoring the situation and preparing their operations as advised by local authorities.
BHP Billiton said it was monitoring the situation and would continue to work with the relevant authorities, including the Pilbara Ports Authority, to plan any preparation required.
The Pilbara Ports Authority said it had commenced clearing the port and anchorages of Dampier and Ashburton of all large vessels.
The authority said at this stage there had been no impact to operations at the Port Hedland port.
Exmouth District High School will be closed on both Thursday and Friday.
The BoM advised heavy rainfall likely over the western Pilbara and northern Gascoyne over Friday and Saturday may lead to flooding.