As the southeast trades have strengthened over the past few weeks bringing very cool to cold weather with them, the thought of another tropical cyclone forming is probably the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. And the last thing anyone in Vanuatu would want — cyclone Pam did more than enough damage to keep us “off” tropical revolving storms for a good while yet. Not as if we were ever “on” them, but it’s the end of June, dammit. It’s winter, there can’t be any more cyclones this season. Or can there?
Maybe there can. For almost a week Nadi’s weather maps www.met.gov.fj have shown a low sitting north east of the Solomons and Vanuatu Meteo www.meteo.gov.vu has mentioned it in their text prognoses. Not too deep – around 1007 hpa – but it persisted. Then, on Sunday night, the “Current Warnings” link on the Nadi webpage turned red. Tropical Disturbance TD17F had been identified.
Monday morning at 8 am local time Nadi’s Tropical Disturbance Advisory page
http://www.met.gov.fj/aifs_prods/20036.txt confirmed that TD17F was located only 220 miles south of the equator, where the sea surface temperature is still 30 degrees Celsius, near 3.7 degrees south and 162.6 degrees east. This is about 420 nautical miles due north of Makira Island (formerly San Cristobal) in the Solomons and roughly 660 miles north-north-west of Vanuatu’s Banks and Torres Islands. The central pressure had fallen three hectopascals (millibars to us old folk) to 1004.
According to Nadi the system is currently slow moving with global forecasting models agreeing on a westwards movement in the future with some intensification. And then the bottom line: The potential for this system to develop into a cyclone in the next 24 to 48 hours is MODERATE.
Not low. Not low to moderate. But MODERATE. Doesn’t this little number TD17F know what day it is?
Or, given that just under 20 years ago on June 7, 1997 the tropical disturbance that was to become cyclone Keli formed 260 miles south of the equator and 285 miles north of Tokelau, at 172 degrees west, is it another sign that global warming and climate change are pushing the hitherto known weather boundaries a little further all the time? And just a co-incidence that in March 1997 the major 1997-1998 El Nino event was just beginning while for the past several months of 2015 we are again seeing the onset of an El Nino event that is increasingly predicted to be of some magnitude?
“Severe Tropical Cyclone Keli – category 3 on the Australian scale – was the first recorded post-season cyclone ever to form in June in the South Pacific. Forming on June 7, 1997 it was named the next day as it moved southwest with winds at the centre gradually intensifying to 90 knots. Keli struck the Tuvalu Islands on June 12 and 13 with winds and seas causing major damage to trees, crops and buildings. On Nivalakita all the buildings except the church were flattened while the whole of Tepuka Savilivili was left uninhabitable as coconut trees and other vegetation were swept away with no more than an area of jagged coral left behind”. (Wikipedia — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyclone_Keli)
As the cyclone moved south and weakened the islands of Wallis and Futuna were buffeted by strong gales and American Samoa received very heavy rainfall. Fiji too experienced strong winds before Keli was finally downgraded to an extra tropical depression on June 15, 1997.
So, as they say in the movies, it’s never over till it’s over.
Here in Vanuatu there’s certainly no need to panic about TD17F at the moment but with Mummy Nature seemingly less and less inclined to play by the rules it pays to keep a weather eye out, no matter what month it is or how many blankets you need on the bed at night!
From Vanuatu Meteorological Service webpage:
VANUATU COASTAL WATERS WIND WARNING
Strong Wind Warning is current for all open waters of Vanuatu issued by the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-Hazards Department, Port Vila at 3:00 pm Monday, June 29, 2015
General SituationA strong high pressure system over New South Wales, Australia extends an easterly ridge to south of Fiji and Tonga. The system maintains relatively tight pressure gradients over Vanuatu. Meanwhile a low pressure north of the Solomon Islands, slow moving.
ForecastSE winds of 22 to 27 knots over all open waters of Vanuatu with rough seas to 2.5-3.0 metres. Moderate south easterly swells.