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Cyclone risk lower: NIWA

Wednesday October 11, 2017 Written by Published in Local
Cyclone Pat caused severe damage on Aitutaki when it hit the island in 2010. 17101032 Cyclone Pat caused severe damage on Aitutaki when it hit the island in 2010. 17101032

After a cyclone-free season in 2016, the Cook Islands could be spared again during this year’s cyclone season, which starts next month.


Forecasters say around eight to 10 named tropical cyclones are expected to form in the Southwest Pacific between November and April.

But they predict the Cook Islands is unlikely to face the direct brunt of any of these predicted storms.

However, the country is located in a “reduced activity zone” which is expected to make its presence felt during the second half of the season, from February to April 2018.

A statement on the tropical cyclone outlook for the 2017/18 season from New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and Meteorological Service of New Zealand (MetService) said around four storms were anticipated to reach at least category three, bringing wind speeds of up to 118kmh.

Of these, the statement said, two may increase to at least category four strength, with mean wind speeds of 159 km/h.

“Category five strength cyclones where winds are greater than 196 km/h, have occurred during seasons with similar antecedent conditions to 2017/18 (known as ‘analogue’ seasons),” the statement said.

Cook Islands Meteorological Service director Arona Ngari says this country needs to be prepared, despite no direct indication of a cyclone being likely to hit the country.

“The scenario given to us with this tropical cyclone guide is that we need to prepare ourselves for the upcoming season,” says Ngari.

“Residents need to refresh their preparation for the season. Simple things like having enough clean water in your home to last a while, a small transistor radio to listen to warnings, some ropes to tie down your home when the need arises, among many other things.”

Analysis by forecasting centres across the Southwest Pacific shows tropical cyclone activity is expected to be higher around the Coral Sea and west of the International Date Line, and lower further east.

NIWA says New Caledonia, Fiji, Vanuatu and Tonga may experience two or more cyclones during the season, while three or four severe cyclones of category three or higher, are expected anywhere across the region during the upcoming cyclone season.

 “Oceanic and atmospheric forecasts for ENSO (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) indicate La Niña conditions are expected to develop by summer,” said the statement.

“If La Niña conditions develop, they are likely to result in a significant change from normal tropical cyclone activity in many Pacific Islands.

“Islands on the fringe of the north Coral Sea, including Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Tonga, may experience slightly increased activity.”

The statement said reduced activity was expected on some islands, especially those east of 160°W longitude, including the Cook Islands, the Marquesas and French Polynesia. As in most years, activity was expected to increase during the second half of the season.

Emergency Management Cook Islands director Charles Carlson said it was a good news that the cyclone prediction for the 2017/18 was very low for the Cook Islands.

“However that is not to say we won’t be any rough weather.

“The Metrological Service is always issuing weather bulletins but sometimes we don’t really take the wind speed and gusts into consideration. The wind gusts can be devastating, reaching up to twice the average speed.”

Cook Islands residents were in danger of becoming complacent because they hadn’t had any major cyclones since 2005 apart from Tropical Cyclone Pat in Aitutaki in 2010, said Carlson.

“We have been very fortunate to be spared while all the rest of the Pacific been battered by the worse cyclones they have ever experienced.

“We certainly thank the good Lord for his divine protection over the Cook Islands, but that is not to say we don’t do our part.

“It is everyone’s responsibilities to prepare for the cyclone season. EMCI is certainly doing our part to make sure we have the structures and instruments in place if required.

“We therefore urge people to check those roofing iron, extra gas bottles and the basic preparations required during the cyclone season.”

NIWA says all Pacific Islands should remain vigilant in case conditions in the equatorial Pacific change during the season.