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'Winston': Category 5 cyclone hits the Fiji Islands

'Winston': Category 5 cyclone hits the Fiji Islands

UBIMET: Wind gusts above 300 km/h and torrential rain

Vienna, 2/20/16 – Cyclone 'Winston' is currently located in the South Pacific, where it causes severe damages. On Friday, the storm was upgraded to a category 5 cyclone, which is the highest category in the Saffir-Simpson-hurrican-scale. Current weather-models predict that the cyclone will hit the Fiji Islands during the weekend and that it could be the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the southern hemisphere. According to UBIMET, wind gusts will reach more than 300 km/h and torrential rain is likely to occur. One reason for the exceptional strength of the cyclone is the climatic phenomenon El Niño. 

On the weekend, 'Winston' will hit the Southern Pacific Fiji Islands as a category 5 cyclone with full force. Already on Saturday (MEZ), he is expected to move across Viti-Levu, the main island of Fiji. The capital city Suva in the Southeast of the island with 85,000 habitants will be directly in the sphere of influence of the cyclone. 

Strongest cyclone ever recorded

With an average wind speed of 280 km/h and more and wind gusts over 300 km/h, 'Winston' is probably the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the southern hemisphere. In addition, heavy rain with more than 400 l/m² and a massive storm tide along the southeast coast of Viti-Levu are expected. “With that, enormous storm damages and catastrophic flooding are threatening the island,” says UBIMET meteorologist Josef Lukas

Four to six cyclones per year

Four to six cyclones occur in average in the South Pacific during the hurricane season from November to April. “In most cases, the cyclones won't reach inhabited areas,” says Lukas. “The major city Suva was influenced only by 12 cyclones who came closer than 160 km to the city since 1972. Most recently, this was the case with cyclone 'Evan' in December 2012.”

Exceptional path

'Winston' is turning in the South Pacific since February 10th. It already struck the insular state Tonga two times and destroyed entire areas each time. This week, the cyclone could hit Tonga for the third time and again cause severe damages. “The path of 'Winston' is exceptional,” says Lukas. “The storm lingers in the South Pacific and it is twisting and turning.”

El Niño

One reason for the extraordinary strong and long-lasting cyclone is probably the climatic phenomenon El Niño. In years with El Niño, the water temperatures in the South Pacific are notably warmer than in common years. “These are the ideal conditions for strong cyclones,” says Lukas. “In addition, the cyclones occur more frequently and it takes more time until they diminish due to the extremely warm seawater and thus higher energy input.”