Tonga

MET Office seeks to improve Storm Surge Warnings by consulting communities that were affected by Severe Tropical Cyclone HAROLD

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19th September, 2020 The Tonga Meteorological Services of the Ministry of MEIDECC on September, 18 held a consultation workshop with representatives from coastal areas of Tongatapu to discuss ways to improve the warnings of storm surge or large waves created by tropical cyclones. When Severe Tropical Cyclone HAROLD passed near Tongatapu and ‘Eua in April, it caused storm surge or large waves of up to 14 meters high and inundated up to 300 meters inland in some places. Mostly along the western and northern coasts of Tongatapu and ‘Eua. The storm surges destroyed millions of dollars’ worth of property and infrastructure in what many described as one of the worst storm surges or sea flooding associated with a Tropical Cyclone in living memory.

“Any type of flooding involving the movement of water is extremely dangerous. The global statistics indicates that the most loss of life world wide due to natural disasters is from flooding. Whether it be flooding from heavy rain or sea flooding or flooding by a tsunami, flooding tops the list as being the most dangerous.

Because tropical cyclones are a natural hazard that is defined by the strength of the winds associated, the damage done by waves and storm surges are often not taken seriously and at times does not carry the same weight as when we are talking about wind strength every time we talk about cyclones. We believe our forecasts were accurate and that enough time was given to communities to prepare during Cyclone HAROLD. Government also issued a State of Emergency almost 24hrs before Cyclone HAROLD inflicted its damage on Tongatapu and ‘Eua. On many occasions after a Cyclone event we have come back to the people and asked them how the warnings were during a warning event so we are able to constantly improve on the work that we do in warnings the nation. 99% of the time we are told that the MET Office and the warnings were spot on, However, when you dig down a little further, the actions a lot of people do or don’t do during warning events don’t seem to be going hand in hand with the warnings given by the MET Office. When we see that happening, it is the worst kind of preparedness. There is a perception that Tonga is cyclone ready just because in the last few big cyclones there was no loss of life. From what i saw during Cyclone HAROLD where people were swimming around in their own homes that tell us that there are still many people who either do not take heed of the warnings or they just do not understand the warnings. For those that choose not to follow warnings or choose not to due to their own beliefs there is little we can do. But for those that do follow the warnings but make the wrong decisions we are particularly interested in assisting to ensure that they do know how to react to warnings to save their lives and property. This is particularly important for storm surge because they do not happen often, yet the consequences and the impacts are devastating. What we are starting today is a series of workshops here in Tongatapu and ‘Eua revisiting the happenings during Cyclone HAROLD and how we can improve understanding of storm surge so that people are better prepared next time it happens. From these workshops together with personal interviews with various people and stakeholders we hope to produce a 1hrs film with the assistance of the Tonga Broadcasting Commission to be used in awareness campaigns and to be used in schools through out Tonga”, That was a Statement by the Director of Meteorology, Mr. Ofa Fa’anunu.

The consultations looked at 4 different areas.

  1. How to improve MET Office warning products

  2. How to use traditional knowledge to better explain scientific or technical forecasts

  3. What would affected communities would like to see in a National Early Warning Policy and

  4. How to improve service delivery

The consultations are being carried out by the MET Office, funded by the Secretariat of the Pacific Environmental Program (SPREP) and assisted by the Tonga Broadcasting Commission.

The workshop was attended by nearly 30 participants from various age groups and gender from various coastal communities in Tongatapu that was affected by Cyclone HAROLD and Staff of the MET Office.

ENDS

For further information, please contact the Meteorology Division on 35355 or metstaff@met.gov.to. More information is also available at www.met.gov.to