What You Need to Know About Cyclones in Fiji
Tropical cyclones that form in the South Pacific sometimes affect Fiji. If you’re planning on travelling to Fiji during the “wet season”, there is a risk of experiencing the effects of a cyclone. With that in mind, it’s best to be well-informed and prepared in case a cyclone does blow away the idyllic tropical holiday you were hoping for. In this guide, we’ll go through how to prepare for a cyclone in Fiji.
Fiji has a recent history of cyclone activity. In the 2017-18 cyclone season, the Lau Islands were impacted by a cyclone, while the 2015-16 cyclone season brought Fiji’s worst cyclone in modern history, Cyclone Winston, which caused significant damage.
When is the Cyclone Season in Fiji?
Tropical cyclones in Fiji are more likely to occur during the wet season. This is Fiji’s summer, between November and April. However, the greatest risk of cyclones occurring is in December, January and February.
Learn more about the seasons in What are the Seasons in Fiji?
Cyclone Warnings in Fiji
The weather is well monitored by the Fiji Meteorological Service and the New Zealand MetService, so cyclones are reported as soon as they form. In short, a cyclone will never take you by surprise, giving you time to prepare.
How Cyclones are Reported
The first sign of a cyclone forming might come from a “tropical depression”. Meteorologists will keep a close eye on depressions that become a storm where wind speeds may reach 65-120km/h (40-73 mph). If it worsens, then the cyclone will be declared and given a name. Cyclones affecting Fiji in the past have been called “Winston” and “Mona”, for instance. When a cyclone is given a name, it is widely reported in the media across Oceania.
Cyclones are given a category depending on how severe they are. Category 1 is the weakest with wind speeds of 88-125km/h (55-78mph) and Category 5 is the strongest with wind speeds greater than 250km/h (155mph).
Meteorologists will draw up a five-day forecast outlining a path that they think the cyclone will take. The path is usually quite broad, as an exact path is difficult to determine.
Cyclone Watch Vs. Cyclone Warning
If there is a “Cyclone Watch” in an area, it means that high winds are likely to be in the area between 24 to 48 hours. If there is a “Cyclone Warning”, it means that high winds will be in the area within 24 hours if they are not already happening.
What are the Dangers of Cyclones?
So why do you need to prepare for Cyclones? The severe gale force winds can cause significant damage to weaker structures in Fiji, for instance, buildings in villages and small towns. However, most of the damage does not come from strong winds, rather from floods. Tropical depressions or cyclones often bring torrential rain that causes rivers to burst their banks. When this happens, there is a higher risk of disease and water in the urban water systems may become unsafe to drink.
It’s important to note that cyclone damage is quite localised, significantly affecting the areas in its path rather than the entire country.
Is Fiji Prepared for Cyclones?
Fiji is well prepared for cyclones, especially in areas where most tourists are. Major resorts, particularly on the mainland (Viti Levu) have solidly-built buildings that can withstand gale force winds. Less-developed islands with small villages and budget resorts have buildings that are less sturdy and are at risk of being destroyed by a severe cyclone.
In some towns, community shelters are in place in case of a cyclone, while people in villages will all congregate in the strongest building of the village.
Fiji’s domestic airlines and ferry services will not risk operating in severe weather or leading up to a cyclone.
What to Do if There is a Cyclone While You are in Fiji
As we’ve already established, the chance of a cyclone affecting you while you’re in Fiji is very slim. However, if you are caught in one, then there’s no need to panic. Fiji’s worst cyclone in recorded history only resulted in 44 deaths. Here are some tips of what to do if a cyclone occurs while you’re in Fiji.
What to Do if There is a Cyclone
- Hotels and resorts have evacuation plans in place in case of a severe cyclone, so follow their advice
- If it is safer to stay where you are, try to stock up on drinking water and food for a day or two
- Stay as far away from windows as possible
- Resort staff or locals you are staying with may suggest gathering in a more secure central area of the resort or village
- Don’t get too close to the sea during high winds, as waves may take you by surprise and wash you out
- Stay out of rivers or lakes after the storm passes
- Don’t drink straight from the tap soon after the storm passes – treat water using our tips in 6 Ways to Make Sure the Water is Safe to Drink in Fiji.