Fiji on high alert: Severe Tropical Cyclone "Winston" hits with violent force

Fiji on high alert: Severe Tropical Cyclone

Severe Tropical Cyclone "Winston" is heading toward Fiji and is expected to slam into the island with violent winds, equivalent to Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale, within the next 24 hours. Expert meteorologists warn Fiji residents can expect life-threatening, possibly devastating conditions. Hurricane and storm warnings have been issued throughout Fiji, and residents are urged to be on high alert.

Tropical Cyclone "Winston" was located approximately 442.6 km (275 miles) east of Suva, Fiji, and tracking westward at 27.8 km/h (17.3 mph) on February 19, 2016, at 15:00 UTC, according to Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC). The category 5 system was packing maximum sustained winds of 231.5 km/h (143.8 mph) and gusts of 277.8 km/h (172.6 mph) while its central pressure was estimated at 929 hPa.

Note: For updates, scroll to the bottom of the article.

Tropical Cyclone Winston on February 19, 2016. Image credit: JTWC/SATOPS

 

Tropical Cyclone "Winston" threat map. Image credit: Fiji Meteorological Service/RSMC Nadi Tropical Cyclone Warning Center

Winston is currently tracking along the northern periphery of a strong steering ridge to the south. It will strengthen slightly over the next 24 hours as upper-level conditions and sea surface temperatures remain favorable.

The system is forecast to make landfall along the east coast of Fiji over the next 24 hours, with an intensity of maximum sustained winds between 231.5 km/h (143.8 mph) and 240.8 km/h (149.6 mph). Wind gusts up to 296.3 km/h (184.1 mph) are expected.

On February 18 at 12:41 UTC (7:41 a.m. EST) NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite showed Winston had a large eye with tightly curved, strong bands of thunderstorms wrapping into the center. Image credit: NASA/NOAA/NRL

After the landfall, the cyclone will begin to weaken due to land interactions. After 72 hours, Winston will reach the area of colder sea surface temperatures and stronger vertical wind shear, and will start to weaken rapidly.

Video credit: NWSOPC

Seven tropical cyclones of hurricane strength have made landfall in Fiji since 1970. Tropical Cyclone "Nigel" was the strongest tropical cyclone on record to make direct landfall on the main island of Fiji in 1985, according to Philip Klotzbach, the meteorologist at CSU. The system made a forceful impact with 194.5 km/h (120.8 mph) winds.

Winston is expected to strike the island with a violent force, and much stronger winds, and experts warn residents can expect life-threatening, potentially devastating situation. Hurricane-force winds, heavy rainfall, and squally thunderstorms are expected to cause flooding and sea-flooding of low-lying areas.

On February 17 at 2000 UTC (3 p.m. EST), NASA's RapidScat found that strongest winds circling the eye of Tropical Cyclone "Winston" at 30 m/s (67.1 mph/ 108 kph). Image credit: NASA JPL/Doug Tyler

Fiji Meteorological Service issued a hurricane warning for Vanuabalavu, Yacata, Mago, Cicia, Tuvuca, Nayau, Koro, Gau, Vanuavatu, Taveuni, Qamea, Laucala, Ovalau, Wakaya and the southern half of Vanua Levu. These areas can expect very destructive hurricane force winds, heavy rainfall, and squally thunderstorms. Wind speeds of 220 km/h (136.7 mph) are expected with gusts up to 315 km/h (195.7 mph).

Tropical Cyclone "Winston" 6-day forecast track. Image credit: JTWC

A storm warning is in effect for Lakeba, Oneata, Moce, Komo, Namuka, Ogea, Moala, the rest of Vanua Levu and nearby smaller islands, Viti Levu, Yasawa, and Mamanuca group. Very destructive winds with average speed of 110 km/h (68.3 mph) are forecast while gusts might reach 155 km/h (96.3 mph).

A damaging heavy swell warning is in place for low-lying coastal areas of Fiji. Heavy rainfall and squally thunderstorms, accompanied with damaging gale force winds with an average speed of 85 km/h (52.8 mph) and gusts of 120 km/h (74.6 mph) are expected throughout the rest of Fiji.

Image credit: Himawari-8/CIRA/RAMMB

Tropical Cyclone "Winston", February 18, 2016. Image credit: NASA/Suomi NPP/VIIRS

Image credit: Himawari/UW-CIMSS

Updates

February 20:

Severe Tropical Cyclone "Winston" has made landfall over the north coast of Viti Levu, Fiji shortly after 07:30 UTC on February 20. With maximum sustained winds of 289 km/h (180 mph) this is the strongest tropical cyclone on record to landfall in Fiji.

Radio FM98.6 in Fiji has reported an elderly man has died on Koro Island. His house, reportedly, collapsed on him as he was trying to escape.

There are reports of widespread devastation.

The Fijian government has declared a state of natural disaster for the next 30 days.

February 21:

Winston was one of the Southern Hemisphere's most powerful storm on records.

There are reports entire villages were destroyed. Disaster management officials are still assessing the damage.

ABC News said "authorities in Fiji have confirmed the death of an elderly man, marking the first fatality from the category five storm. The man was from Nabasovi, on Koro Island, the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation reported. He died when the roof fell on him."

"Some villages have reported that all homes have been destroyed," Jone Tuiipelehaki, a communications officer for the UN Development Program, tweeted on Saturday evening. "Fifty homes have been reported destroyed in Navaga village in Koro Island."

Aftermath report: Tropical Cyclone "Winston", the strongest storm of the Southern Hemisphere, devastates Fiji

February 22:

Fiji's National Disaster Management Office said Winston has left 21 people dead and 4 missing.

Local media say that the storm has destroyed houses in numerous areas including Tailevu, Rakiraki, Tavua, Ba, Lautoka, Savusavu, Taveuni, Ovalau, Koro, Vanuabalavu.

Damage assessments are continuing and full details of the destruction are as yet unavailable.

Image credit: New Zealand Defence Air Force / Government of Fiji

Image credit: New Zealand Defence Air Force / Government of Fiji

Featured image: Tropical Cyclone "Winston" intensifying on its way to Fiji, February 19, 2016. Image credit: NOAA / Suomi NPP

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