19 february 2016

Catastrophic Cyclone Winston bears down on Fiji’s main island in worst case scenario

By Angela Fritz, Washington Post, February 19

Tropical Cyclone Winston is expected to make landfall on Fiji’s main island Saturday night, local time (Saturday morning, Eastern Time), as a strong Category 4 on the Saffir Simpson Scale. There is no record of a hurricane so strong making landfall on Fiji’s main island. (NASA)

A destructive tropical cyclone is bearing down on Fiji with winds approaching 150 mph and an intensity rating that is nearly off the charts. Tropical Cyclone Winston is the worst case scenario for Fiji — a Category 5 that is expected to make direct landfall on the most populous island, home to the capital city of Suva.

Winston took an incredibly unusual path to get to where it is right now — winding through the South Pacific and crossing over a single island twice. The cyclone passed Tonga’s island of Vava’u once earlier this week as a category 2, and then strengthened, turned and passed over the same islands again as a category 4. Australia’s ABC News reports that Vava’u fared better than expected as Cyclone Winston passed by.

Since then, Winston grew even stronger, exploding into a category 5 cyclone on the Australia scale, with 145 mph winds — the equivalent of a strong category 4 hurricane in the Atlantic. The Fiji Meteorological Service estimates that Winston’s wind gusts are 295 kilometers per hour, or around 180 mph.

In regions of the world where direct observations, like hurricane hunters, are not available, satellite estimates are used to ascertain the intensity of the cyclone. This method is called the Dvorak technique. After all the elements of the storm are analyzed — things like cloud cover, the eye, banding and shear — a final Dvorak number is given on a scale from one to eight. On Friday, Winston was given an eight.

This would suggest the cyclone is much stronger than the current 145 mph wind speed estimate, and that it could be harboring wind speeds up to 190 mph.


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