WHEN a tropical depression formed north-northeast of Fiji on Friday, meteorologists monitored its slow but sure progress near the Wallis Islands and followed its track to Futuna.
Later it began to turn southwest towards the Fiji Group at a mere six knots.
Preparations for a possible cyclone began mid-morning on Friday with students sent home before lunch.
But on Saturday the sun was out and the Fiji Group remained unaffected by the weather system which continued to form at sea.
Tomas’ progress was so slow that irate letter writers accused the Fiji Times on Sunday of overstating the dangers associated with the cyclone.
By Sunday night, however, Cikobia Island in the far north began to experience damaging winds.
Yesterday there was no doubt that Tomas was causing damage in the Northern Division.
Rajendra Prasad, Director of Meteorology, has tracked Tomas from its formation to the mighty Category 4 hurricane it is today.
These are his notes:
1. Tropical Cyclone Tomas is the seventh tropical cyclone to form in RSMC Nadi-TCC area of responsibility and ninth to occur in his southwest Pacific region so far in the 2009/2010 TC Season. The presence of a moderate El Nino has caused cyclone activity to increase this season compared to 8-9 TCs that are expected to occur in an average Season.
2. TC Tomas formed north of Wallis Island and northwest of Samoa around 1300 FST on 12 March 2010. The system (14F) originated north of Samoa two days earlier and had since been drifting westwards while developing.
3. Soon after its naming, TC Tomas commenced moving west-southward and later changed its course to southwest, thus heading in the direction of Fiji. It curved southwards early on Monday, 15 March 2010 and has since maintained its path.
Intensity and Winds
4. Commencing as a Category 1 TC on the 12th, Thomas intensified steadily to reach Category 2 cyclone within 18 hours and Category 3 cyclone within 48 hours of its formation. It continued to intensify since then and reached Category 4 status 18 hours after attaining Category 3 Status.
5. The cyclone is currently estimated to have average winds of 95 knots with momentary gusts to 130 knots (140km/hr) close to the centre. The system is expected to intensify a little further perhaps reaching intensity tonight or early tomorrow.
6. Eighteen Special Weather Bulletins (SWBs) have been issued for Fiji so far, the first eight carrying TC ALERT and the rest containing TC WARNING. The number is expected to more than double by the time the TC threat is over late on Wednesday.
Wallis & Futuna
7. Thirty-one SWBs have been issued for Wallis and Futuna so far with another few to go before the threat is over to these French territories.
8. Nine SWBs have been issued for Tuvalu with the threat to the islands now over.
9. TC Tomas is to continue drifting southwards (average speed of 05-07 knots) for the next 24 hours and thereafter curve slightly south-southeast, towards southern Tonga.
10. It is expected to reach peak intensity tonight or early tomorrow, maintain it for about 12-18 hours, and undergo a very gradual weakening trend afterwards.
11. The projected path of TC Tomas takes it right across the Lau group tomorrow after its centre passing just east of Vanua Levu and Taveuni tonight. As indicated earlier, most of the Northern Division and whole of the Eastern Division are expected to be severely affected by destructive Storm Force (48-63 knots) to very destructive Hurricane Force (over 63 knots) winds from the cyclone.
12. The relatively slow movement of the cyclone will mean prolonged effect of both high winds and heavy rain. As in the case of Cikobia Island, people can expect battering of their houses and shelters by high winds for 12 hours or more.
13. Flooding from the sea due to TC, associated storm surge and wave effect should be a major concern for low lying coastal areas, especially at the time of high astronomical tide.