Tropical Cyclone Winston – Death Toll Rises, Heavy Rain in Fiji and New Caledonia

Local media in Fiji are reporting that the death toll from Tropical Cyclone Winston now stands at 42, with one person missing and over 100 injured. The number of those evacuated stood at 34,000 as of earlier today.

Tropical Cyclone Winston made landfall on 20 February in Vitu Levi, eastern Fiji as a Category 5 hurricane and is the most powerful storm ever to hit Fiji.

Rainfall and Floods

As well as high speed winds, the storm has also brought torrential rain to some areas of Fiji, and more recently, New Caledonia.

On 22 February, flooding was reported in Nausori on Viti Levu, Fiji,  and levels of the Upper Rewa and Wainibuka rivers were extremely high, promoting Fiji Meteorological Service (FMS) to issue flood warnings.

Between 21 and 22 February, Nausori recorded 89.9 mm of rain in 24 hours. Nadi Airport saw 106.7 mm during the same period. Earlier, 147 mm of rain was recorded in Nausori during 24 hours to 21 Feb 06:00 UTC.

During a 24 hour period between 23 and 24 February, over 50 mm of rain was recorded in Nausori and 106 mm in La Roche in New Caledonia, according to WMO figures.

Fiji’s Disaster Preparedness Commended

Earlier this week, (22 February) the head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), Mr. Robert Glasser, extended his condolences to Fiji on the loss of life from Cyclone Winston and commended the government for its efforts to reduce mortality and the numbers of people affected by the strongest cyclone ever to hit the Pacific country.

Mr. Glasser said: “Our heartfelt condolences go out to the families who have lost loved ones. At the same time we recognise that the death toll could have been significantly higher if the Government, the National Disaster Management Centre and the Meteorological Service had not united in their efforts to disseminate warnings and urge the population to avail of the 735 evacuation centres which were opened in advance of the cyclone’s arrival.

“Fiji’s Prime Minster Mr. Frank Bainimarama demonstrated real leadership in making a personal appeal to people to heed the warnings and to get out of harm’s way. Political leadership and good governance is a vital part of disaster risk reduction an d ensuring that people are risk informed.

“A key target of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction adopted in March last year as a global blueprint for reducing disaster risk and disaster losses is to ensure that fewer people lose their lives or get injured in these types of events which are becoming more intense as a result of climate change.

“ There were 90 major storms recorded last year and the reported death toll was 996 which was significantly down on the ten year average of 17,778. Everything possible must be done to avoid any reversal in this trend. Fiji will have suffered significant economic losses and will need international support to build back in a way that makes it more resilient to future disaster events.”

Tropical Cyclone Winston Weakens

The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) say that Winston “continued moving south-east and then turning south-west between the islands of Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, weakening. On 24 February at 0.00 UTC its centre was located approx. 550 km south-west of Kadavu island (Fiji), 540 km south-east of Tafea province (Vanuatu) and 640 km east of La Roche (New Caledonia), and it had maximum sustained wind speed of 93 km/h.

“Over the next 24 hours it is forecast to move south-west weakening further. Heavy rain and winds may affect some areas of Fiji as well as the province of Tafea (Vanuatu) and eastern New Caledonia”.

NASA Satellite Data

NASA satellites provided data on Tropical Cyclone Winston before and after it made an historic landfall in eastern Fiji. The GPM, Suomi NPP and Aqua satellites provided forecasters with data that showed rainfall, strength and extent of the storm.

 Caption On Feb. 22, 2016 at 0200 UTC the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite captured this visible image of Tropical Cyclone Winston between Vanuatu (left) and Fiji (right). Credits: NASA/NOAA

On Feb. 22, 2016 at 0200 UTC the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA-NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite captured this visible image of Tropical Cyclone Winston between Vanuatu (left) and Fiji (right). Credits: NASA/NOAA

The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) core observatory satellite flew directly above tropical cyclone Winston on 20 February, 2016 at 0941 UTC (4:41 a.m. EST). Tropical cyclone Winston had sustained winds estimated at 155 knots (178.4 mph/287.1 kph) at that time. A rainfall analysis derived from data collected by GPM’s Microwave Imager (GMI) and Dual-frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR) instruments found that in addition to powerful winds Winston was dropping rain at a rate of over 169 mm (6.7 inches) per hour in the western side of the eye.

On Feb. 20, 2016 at 0941 UTC (4:41 a.m. EST), the GPM core satellite saw that Winston was dropping rain at a rate of over 169 mm (6.7 inches) per hour in the western side of the eye. Credit: NASA/JAXA/Hal Pierce
On Feb. 20, 2016 at 0941 UTC (4:41 a.m. EST), the GPM core satellite saw that Winston was dropping rain at a rate of over 169 mm (6.7 inches) per hour in the western side of the eye. Credit: NASA/JAXA/Hal Pierce

On 21 February, 2016 at 02:15 UTC (Feb. 20 at 9:15 p.m. EST) the MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) instrument aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite captured a visible image of Tropical Cyclone Winston in the South Pacific Ocean, west of Fiji. Even after passing over Fiji, Winston maintained an eye.

By 0900 UTC (4 a.m. EST) that day, seven hours after NASA’s Aqua satellite captured an image of Tropical cyclone Winston, the storm still maintained maximum sustained winds near 125 knots (143.8 mph/231.5 kph) down from 130 knots (149.6 mph/240.8 kph) just 12 hours before. It was located about 253 nautical miles (291.3 miles/468.9 km) west of Suva, Fiji near 17.6 degrees south latitude and 174.0 degrees east longitude and was moving west-southwest.

On Feb. 21, 2016 at 02:15 UTC (Feb. 20 at 9:15 p.m. EST) NASA's Aqua satellite captured this visible image of Tropical Cyclone Winston in the South Pacific Ocean, west of Fiji. Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team/Jeff Schmaltz
On Feb. 21, 2016 at 02:15 UTC (Feb. 20 at 9:15 p.m. EST) NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this visible image of Tropical Cyclone Winston in the South Pacific Ocean, west of Fiji. Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team/Jeff Schmaltz

The GPM satellite is co-managed by NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the Suomi NPP satellite is co-managed by NASA and NOAA.

Photos of Tropical Cyclone Winston Damage, Fiji

Aerial images by NZ Defence AirForce, via Government of Fiji. Other images courtesy of Government of Fiji