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.