Tropical Cyclone Winston devastates Fiji

Monday 22nd Feb 2016 by the Weather Club

Photo: Locals attempt to go through the wreckage in Ba, a town on Fiji's main island, Viti Levu
Credit: Naziah Ali (Twitter)

Over the weekend Tropical Cyclone Winston, one of the most powerful tropical cyclones to ever hit the South Pacific region has bought widespread destruction to Fiji, resulting in a month long state of disaster being declared. 

The cyclone made landfall on Saturday evening local time, bringing sustained winds of 140mph, and gusts of 200mph. The Fiji Meteorological Service estimated Winston’s central pressure to be around 915mb as it reached Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island. This year’s strong El Nino event could have also contributed to the storm’s strength, with the ocean temperature around Fiji about 2-3 degrees above normal.

So far, at least 21 people are confirmed dead, with more than 8,100 people currently taking shelter in evacuation centres. Prior to the cyclone’s arrival, 735 evacuation centres were opened, with a curfew imposed, ordering people to stay inside from Saturday evening, to Monday morning. Schools will remain closed for the next week, to allow their continued use as shelters. The main airport, Nadi, has re-opened, however Fiji has more than 100 inhabited islands, with one of the greatest challenges getting emergency supplies to the most remote communities. Widespread flooding has been one of the major issues for the low-lying islands of Fiji, with phone and electricity lines facing widespread disruption.

In the last 35 years, only four other tropical cyclones of Category 4 intensity had tracked within 100 miles of Fiji's largest island (according to NOAA's historical hurricane tracks database). The last to do so was Tropical Cyclone Evan in December 2012. 

As of Tuesday morning (local Pacific time), Winston is currently a Category 4 cyclone lying about 500km west of Fiji. It is forecast to maintain Category 4 status as it tracks south over the next 36 hours, but is expected to then dissipate before reaching any other land masses.