A powerful cyclone heading for Port Hedland in Australia intensified and is set to make landfall late on Wednesday.

Cyclone Rusty strengthened to a category four storm early on Wednesday. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology predicts the storm will come ashore just to the east of Port Hedland.

"Already we've seen significant rainfall. Rainfall totals this morning were up around 180 millimetres (seven inches) in places. We do expect to see further heavy rainfalls as the system moves south," Mike Bergin, Regional Director at the bureau, said.

Weather warnings extend as far as 310 miles inland. Hardest-hit areas could receive up to 600 millimetres of rain in 24 hours, the bureau said.

Residents have been warned to expect dangerously high storm tides and high waves along the coast. Those in low lying coastal areas had been evacuated, with local media reporting a run on emergency supplies such as water, batteries and flashlights.

Rusty is the fourth cyclone to form during Australia's 2012-13 "cyclone season" which runs from November to the end of April.