Cyclone Winston Lashes Fiji

February 20, 2016

Eric Holthaus in Slate:

One of the strongest storms ever measured on Earth just made a direct landfall in the South Pacific.

Cyclone Winston made landfall on Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu, late Saturday local time. The Fiji Meteorological Service estimated wind gusts near Winston’s center at around 200 mph—strong enough for Winston to be considered the strongest tropical cyclone ever measured in the Southern Hemisphere. Just prior to landfall, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center in Hawaii estimated Winston’s sustained winds at around 185 mph, based on satellite.

Fiji’s government has declared a “state of natural disaster” for the next 30 days to help deal with the storm and its expected aftermath. Video from Fiji taken hours before the worst conditions arrived showed trees and power lines bending under heavy winds, and there are initial reports from some Fijian villages of all houses destroyed:

Meteorologist Bob Henson said that prior to landfall, Winston attained a “nearly ideal environment for intensification.” Exceptionally warm ocean temperatures egged on by a record-strength El Niño were a big reason why Winston was so strong. At one point, satellite-based intensity estimates of Winston were a perfect 8.0 on an 8.0 scale. Winston also took a very atypical track to arrive in Fiji, making landfall from the East—the opposite of the usual direction—which may have left residents unprepared, and amounts to a worst case scenario for the island chain.


11 Responses to “Cyclone Winston Lashes Fiji”

  1. redskylite Says:

    Judith Curry co-authored at least one paper on intensifying cyclones, before she went off as a champion for the deniers.

    Judith Curry: OK. What we did was we look at the period from 1970 to 2004 and we chose this period because this is a period where we have satellite coverage and we can actually look at the global population of hurricanes. What we found was over this period that there was no increase in the number of storms, however the strongest storms, Category 4 and 5 storms, the number of those had almost doubled over this period. And we found this in every ocean basin where they have hurricanes, Pacific, Indian Ocean, as well as the Atlantic. And at the same time this increase of number of Category 4 and 5 storms seems to map with the increase in sea surface temperature over this period. And we put forth a hypothesis that the increase in sea surface temperature was resulting in a global increase in the intensity of the strongest, of hurricanes.

    It seems to be playing out as projected and showing just how vulnerable those pacific islands really are.

    Ironically the storm arrived in Fiji as a category 5 just after a 3 day Pacific climate change conference at Wellington’s Victoria University titled “In the Eye of the Storm”, had finished.

    Pacific Climate Change Conference Turns Words into Action

    • redskylite Says:

      And the marine community of Kiribati, who are really suffering the dangers and effects of thermal expansion of the oceans, coupled with polar ice melt, have a strong resolve to remain, and are developing plans, which I expect to see spread to other island nations as time progresses.

      “Kiribati is hoping to build artificial islands in a bid of saving the low-lying nation from rising sea levels that look set to turn it into a modern-day Atlantis. President Anote Tong said they are seeking help from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) engineers to work out how they could feasibly create artificial islands to protect the country from future climate change.

      Kiribati has been on the forefront of climate-change discussions for a number of years. Comprised of 33 atolls and reef islands, much of the nation sits just above sea level. It is one of the lowest-lying nations on the planet and climate scientists have identified it as being one of the most at risk from global warming.”

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Sympathies to the Kiribatians, but their best solution is to abandon the islands and become climate refugees (except that NZ appears to be one country that won’t take them—it has already rejected the one who tried). Weren’t there plans for all of them to move to Fiji?

        It’s a shame that their islands are going to go under (and take with them a piece of the USMC’s most hallowed ground), but it is extreme bright-sidedness to think that building artificial islands or even floating islands makes any sense. It is akin to the many millions of dollars being spent to move the native villages in Alaska—money poured down a rathole, since any fix will be temporary and the $$$ would be better spent on permanent relocation to “safe” areas. Also, once the wealthier nations that bear the blame for AGW are hit with the negative impacts of CAGW big-time, they will have little interest in paying for pie-in-the-sky “reparations” projects in the middle of the Pacific—-they will need the $$$ at home.

        And not to sound heartless, but the loss of the islands that constitute one of the poorest and most “insignificant” countries on the planet is not going to get anyone’s attention. SLR and category 5 cyclones hitting Hong Kong, New York, and the other places where large numbers live (especially the richest folks) will do that, Winston and Fiji will be forgotten in days.

        • redskylite Says:

          Correct Kiribati bought 20 square km of land from the Church of England, in Vanua Levu (2000 km away). They hope not to have to re-settle all their population of around 111,000 there, but at a squeeze they could. That is if Fiji provide passports and rights, having a history of instability that is not guaranteed, and we’ve seen with Syrians the enthusiasm for accepting refugees by some states (not all). UAE have built artificial islands in Dubai and the Dutch have a wealth of experience in sea defense protection, so exploring these possibilities make sense. Maybe they can attract a benefactor like Richard Branson or Bill Gates, maybe Exxon or Shell will have a sense of guilt or decency and front up. But I wouldn’t count on it.

        • redskylite Says:

          Doing the math 111,000 people over 20 sq. km means 5550 people share a kilometer. Puts them just below Kong Kong (and just above Gibraltar) in people density. Where’s all the money for sky scrapers coming from ?

        • addledlady Says:

          I do think the eventual outcomes for Kiribati, and many if not most other such low-lying islands/ countries around the world, will have to be ‘leaving home’. No matter how sad or difficult that will be – from the Florida keys to Kiribati and everywhere else. Even if the whole world went collectively sane and moved to an all hands on deck approach to reducing emissions, or Lawks! tackling atmospheric concentrations, of greenhouse gases there’s not enough time or scope for action to prevent inundation. That was 30 years ago. Of course, an all out effort might mean that those island would eventually re-emerge from the receding waters/storm surges within a few generations/couple of centuries – but there’d have to be some serious work done to reclaim soils which had been regularly or permanently under sea water in the interim. We have no way of knowing whether people will or won’t be willing to make the effort required if the opportunity arises.

          However, I think the idea of developing more and better versions of floating/floatable homes, gardens, schools and even sizable communities is a good one. There are some long-standing examples in harbours and on rivers and more recent ones in Bangladesh. Rising seas and more frequent &or extensive river flooding will deprive us of _a lot_ of formerly usable land and we’ll have to be a bit creative in designing dwellings and other buildings. Otherwise we’ll be forced into more and more crowded living circumstances which won’t suit everyone.

  2. redskylite Says:

    The latest death count is 20, but fears that it might rise dramatically once remote settlements are contacted, the power of the storm was devastating indeed.

  3. redskylite Says:

    Cyclone Winston has weakened to a category three and the remnants are drifting slowly my way, greatly weakened fortunately. This from Bob Henson and Jeff Masters . . . 22/2/2016

    In 2015, Earth saw a total of nine Category 5 storms, the second-highest total on record. This explosion of cyclonic fury was fed by ocean temperatures that were at record-warm levels globally, with especially warm readings across tropical and subtropical areas. El Niño has played a large role over the last few months by spreading warm surface water across vast swaths of the Pacific. However, Earth has also experienced a decade of intensified oceanic heat storage (which largely explains the temporary slowdown in the rate of atmospheric warming from about 2000 to 2012).

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