The tropical cyclone warning system in the south-west Pacific

Vikash Prasad1, Neville Louis Koop2
1Fiji Meteorological Service, Private Mail Bag, Nadi Airport, Fiji.
Tel. : +679-724888, Fax: +679-720430,
E-mail: vikash.prasad@met.gov.fj
2South Pacific Forum Secretariat, c/o Fiji Meteorological Service, Private Mail Bag, Nadi Airport, Fiji.
Tel. : +679-724888, Fax: +679-723490,
E-mail: nlk@is.com.fj

Tropical cyclones are erratic but frequent visitors in the north and south Pacific Ocean. In the south west Pacific region (from the east coast of Australia to French Polynesia) approximately 9 cyclones occur on average each year, representing a significant hazard to the people of the region. In recent times many Pacific island nations have suffered the impacts of tropical cyclones leaving death and destruction and severely arresting economic and social development.

Limiting the impacts of tropical cyclones involves a suite of scientific, technical and social issues which need to be well co-ordinated and robust. Three elements, namely the monitoring and detection by regional and national meteorological services, transmission of warnings using available communications links, and public response to the warnings provided, comprise the basis of the tropical cyclone warning system for the south west Pacific.

The Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre (RSMC) Nadi-TCC is located within the Fiji Meteorological Service in its operations centre located in Nadi, Fiji. The RSMC Nadi-TCC provides advisory information to the countries of the south-west Pacific in accordance with the guidelines established for such centres by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). In addition, RSMC Nadi-TCC has the responsibility for providing routine tropical cyclone warning messages for a number of Pacific island countries and territories. In some cases this information supplements local sources of such information, however for several countries (Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tonga, Niue Cook Islands and Samoa) the information from Nadi RSMC is the only source if such information. This arrangement is unique among the meteorological community and is typical of the way in which the small island nations of the south Pacific co-operate to derive maximum benefit from the limited resources available to them.

Communication between the widely spread islands of the Pacific is often difficult, particularly so for the dissemination of meteorological warnings. Warning information loses value rapidly if it is not able to be reached by the community. To overcome these difficulties the Pacific island countries have recently made great efforts to improve the common communications systems such as telephone and facsimile. There have also been significant advances in recent times of established meteorological communications systems such as the Global Telecommunications System (GTS) in the Pacific region. While all Pacific island people have learned to survive in the midst of tropical cyclones, it is still important to ensure that information intended for the public is able to be easily understood. Steps are being taken to address this problem, with meteorologists and disaster managers now working together to develop guidelines for basic information in warnings which can be understood by all.

The tropical cyclone warning system is a vital tool in reducing the economic, social and environmental devastation brought about by tropical cyclones. The Cyclone Warning System Upgrade Project aims to improve the present system to ensure it meets the needs of the region. The eight Pacific ACP countries and three territories are participating in this project which is being funded under the 7th European Development Fund. Approximately US$ 2 million will be spent during this four year project which commenced in September 1996.