Numerous factors influence the generation of storm surge in a tropical cyclone. These factors include "storm" variables, such as the geographic size of the cyclone, maximum sustained winds and forward motion, as well as "non-storm" variables, such as the offshore water depth (bathymetry), coastal shape, and the angle of the storm track compared to the coastal profile.
Haiyan's "storm" variables were among the most severe of any landfalling tropical cyclone in history. This geographically large storm made landfall in the Philippines with maximum sustained winds exceeding 190 MPH (300 KPH), which made it the most intense tropical cyclone in history at landfall. Although Ita was classified as a category-5 tropical cyclone before making landfall in Queensland, the geographic size of this storm and maximum sustained winds were less severe than Haiyan.
However, comparing the "non-storm" (coastal) variables becomes more complicated, and I have not seen any information comparing the coastal profiles of the Philippines vs. Queensland, Australia. Both areas have numerous bays and harbors, which enhance surge levels.
The biggest difference between these two storms is that Ita is moving in the direction of onshore winds. The onshore winds are located to the south of the landfall location, and the storm is moving to the southwest. This means that vulnerable locations like Cooktown and Cairns have experienced prolonged onshore winds and will see these onshore winds, and surge levels, gradually increase as the storm center gets closer.
The track of Haiyan was quite different. As Haiyan approached cities like Tacolban, strong winds were blowing offshore, and then after the eye passed the strongest winds blew immediately onshore, generating a massive wall of water that slammed Tacloban, in a coastal flood event that was more typical of a tsunami than a storm surge. In other words, Haiyan's track enabled the strongest winds to suddenly reverse and immediately push water inland, producing a surge that surprised, and killed, many people. Haiyan generated a storm tide of around 6.5 m near the Tacloban Airport.
Expect Ita's surge to rise more gradually along the Northern Queensland Coast, with highest surge levels from Cairns north. Also, because Ita is forecast to track somewhat parallel to the coast after making landfall, expect an extensive area to observe onshore winds. This means that hundreds of kilometers of coastline with observe strong onshore winds and high storm surge levels. I have not come across specific storm surge or storm tide forecasts for this event.
In summary, this is how Ita will differ from Haiyan:
1) It is difficult to predict the difference in peak surge level between Ita and Haiyan, as I have not seen any specific storm surge forecasts, or comparisons in the coastal profile between Queensland and the Philippines. Both the Philippines and Queensland have many very distinct bays, and we would expect the peak surge levels to be found in the interior portion of these bays.
2) Ita's surge should rise more gradually than Haiyan, and a sudden "tsunami-like wave" should not be expected. Nonetheless, dangerous storm surge will occur along the coast, particularly north of Cairns.
3) Ita's surge will likely flood a much more extensive area of coastline, because hundreds of kilometers of coastline will observed an extended period of onshore winds.
The Australia Bureau of Meteorology will continue posting important updates as this storm surge event unfolds.