Tropical Cyclone Winston causes devastation in Fiji

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Severe tropical cyclone Winston caused widespread destruction as it hit the Fiji islands on 20 and 21 February as a top-level Category 5 strength, with winds averaging 220 kilometers per hour and gusts of 315 kilometers per hour.

The Fiji National Disaster Management Office is coordinating the response and has activated the National Emergency Operation Center. A 30-day state of natural disaster has been declared. Reports of casualties are rising.

Winston was one of the strongest ever cyclones to hit Fiji, with speeds more than enough to lift an airplane. Its intensity is comparable to that of Tropical Cyclone Pam, which caused devastation in Vanuatu on 14 March 2015. In addition to the high winds, heavy swells and torrential rains led to serious flooding.

The Fiji Meteorological Service remains operational and issued regular warnings and advisories to the public about the threat of Winston.

As of 0000 UTC on Monday 22 February, Winston is moving westwards as a category 3 tropical cyclone. Vanuatu Meteorological Services say there is a “high” likelihood of it impacting the Vanuatu area on Tuesday.

The Fiji Meteorological Service, which also acts as WMO’s regional specialized meteorological center, issued an advisory last October that the powerful El Niño event would lead to an above average tropical cyclone season for many Pacific islands.

“The current El Niño Southern Oscillation conditions, the existence of a warm pool of sea surface and the sub-surface temperature anomalies in the region, all point to a cyclone genesis trough for the 2015/16 to lie mainly to the east of the International Dateline,” it said.

The seasonal outlook said the tropical cyclone risk is anticipated to be “highly elevated” for Solomon Islands, Wallis & Futuna, Tokelau, Samoa, Northern Cook Islands and French Polynesia, and “elevated” for Vanuatu, Fiji, Niue and Southern Cook Islands.

Islands in the Pacific region are all vulnerable to extreme weather events, exacerbated by climate change and sea level rise. WMO is working to improve weather and climate services for Small Island Developing States.

The official tropical cyclone season in the region is from 1 November to 30 April.

Fiji meteorological service web page is here 

Details on humanitarian situation here