Cyclone Ita is now a category three storm but is not expected to affect Queensland until later this week.

Cyclone Ita has been upgraded to a category three storm as it heads towards Queensland.

It was 970km northeast of Cooktown in the Coral Sea about 11.15am on Tuesday and could strengthen to a category four storm by Friday morning, the Bureau of Meteorology says.

“We anticipate it starting to move west soon,” forecaster Lauren Murphy told AAP.

“At the moment it’s near-stationary.”

Winds are expected to increase in far north Queensland from Wednesday night as Ita tracks towards the coast, north of Cooktown.

Before forming into cyclone Ita, the tropical depression led to 21 deaths in the Solomon Islands last week.

Heavy rain and a flood in Honiara swept away entire communities, bringing down bridges and inundating the downtown area.