Paul developed out of a tropical depression that first became evident in the southwest Gulf of Carpentaria on 2 January 1980. By 3 January 1980 this tropical depression had developed early signs of a cyclonic circulation and had deepened to 997 hPa, but it had been drifting slowly southeast and made landfall before reaching cyclone intensity.
The low moved in a general east-southeast direction across the Carpentaria and Central Coast districts of Queensland during the next few days, with the central pressure falling slightly. It then moved out over the Coral Sea just south of Sarina early on 7 January 1980 with a central pressure of 995 hPa.
While moving overland the low forced strong convergence in the moist northeast airstream onto the Queensland tropical coast. Resultant very heavy rain caused one of the highest floods this century down the Don River through Bowen. The river changed its course in its lower reaches, washing away two homes and causing damage estimated at several million dollars to the market garden industry. Major flooding also occurred in other Central Coast rivers.
The tropical depression was moving east-southeast at 40 km/h as it crossed Shoalwater Bay. By 0600 UTC 7 January 1980 its central pressure had fallen to 992 hPa, gales had developed and it was named tropical cyclone Paul while just northeast of Yeppoon. This movement continued until 1500 UTC 7 January 1980 when Paul turned southeast and three hours later had deepened to 989 hPa, its lowest central pressure as a tropical cyclone. This rapid southeast then south-southeast movement continued until by 1200 UTC 8 January 1980 it had passed latitude 30°S, slowed to 25 km/h and became cold cored. At that time it was downgraded from a tropical cyclone.
Throughout its life as a tropical cyclone Paul did not affect the Australian mainland. It did not develop a deep convective warm cored structure and winds did not reach much above gale force. Much stronger winds and a lower central pressure were eventually achieved as a cold cored extratropical circulation.