Fiji Cyclones - How to Prepare and Stay Safe

Fiji gets a warm, wet and often very windy summer, November to April is the rainy season AND cyclone season.

tropical storm

Cyclones, that‘s hurricanes and typhoons to those in the northern hemisphere, are unpredictable by their nature and it pays to be prepared.

Fiji has a decent history of cyclones with many causing widespread destruction and displacing thousands from their homes.

The 2015-16 cyclone season was the deadliest on record. 50 people lost their lives and billions of dollars of damage occurred across several pacific nations such as Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and others. Fiji bore the brunt of that season with Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston smashing into the Fiji islands in 2016, packing winds in excess of 155mph. 44 people lost their lives and $1.4 billion USD in damage was caused. With vital infrastructure and services down across the islands, a state of emergency was declared by the Fijian government. Rated at Category 5, Winston was the deadliest cyclone recorded in Fiji's modern history.

Preparing for a Cyclone in Fiji

Luckily Fiji is well prepared for cyclones. There are community shelters and the major resorts have solidly-built substantial buildings. The problem comes with the smaller resorts on the outer islands. The timber and palm-fringed buildings have loads of charm, but they‘re not where you want to be when a big blow comes through. If the staff tell you its time to leave and go back to the mainland… they mean it.

If you are on a smaller island, plan to exit to the mainland as soon as it is confirmed the island is in the firing line of the cyclone. Small planes and ferries may not operate in severe weather including weather leading up to the cyclone hitting. It may be worth buying a flexible/refundable plane ticket should you get stuck.

Most of the damage from a cyclone comes not from the strong winds, but the floods. Sometimes the tropical depression doesn‘t quite make it to cyclone strength, but it brings enough torrential rain to soak the islands and cause rivers to burst their banks. This is where most of Fiji‘s disease problems come from. It‘s hard to build a sewage system which can handle 150 millimetres (6 inches) of rain in 6 hours!

Understanding Cyclone Warnings in Fiji

It‘s important to check with local media and keep an eye on weather reports. There are a few stages in the warning system, you should understand them.

A Tropical Depression is the first sign a cyclone might form. The depression may become a storm with wind speeds of 40 to 73 mph. If it worsens further it may be declared to be a cyclone, and given a name. There are 5 categories of cyclone with 1 being the weakest (wind speeds 55 – 78 mph) to category 5 (wind speeds greater than 155 mph).

The Fiji Meteorological Service and MetService New Zealand monitor all cyclone activity in the Pacific with assistance from Australia and the United States.  Meteorologists will draw up what they call a 5-day forecast cone. This is a map of where they think the cyclone could be over the next 5 days, and the areas that could be affected by storm strength winds. It‘s shaped like a cone because the exact path is unpredictable.

If you are told there‘s a cyclone watch on your position, it means gale force winds are expected within 48 hours but not within 24.

Cyclone warning means the gale-force winds will be on you within 24 hours, or are already happening.

What Do I Do If I Am in Fiji During a Cyclone?

  • If the resort or hotel staff tell you to evacuate, follow their advice.
  • If you decide to stay, make sure you have plenty of bottled water, and non-perishable food. The power may be out for several hours. Ask the staff to provide you with candles and torchlight.
  • Stay in a central room, or as far away from windows as possible.
  • Don‘t venture out of your room or the central shelter. Flying debris is one of the biggest killers in a cyclone.
  • Staff may suggest everyone gathers in a central, secure shelter. It could be a good idea to be with people who‘ve experienced previous cyclones.
  • Don‘t go to look at the crashing waves, it‘s very easy to be knocked off your feet by the force of water and washed-out to sea.
  • Be aware there may be a storm surge (especially if the storm coincides with high tide). Sea water could come much further than you‘re used to.
  • Don‘t swim in rivers lakes or lagoons after the cyclone passes. Rising flood waters usually swamp the sewage system (erk!).

Fiji Cyclones - Be Informed

Okay, that‘s the bad stuff about cyclones, but the effects can be surprisingly localised. In 2010 as Tomas raged to the north-east of Viti Levu, to the north-west and just 330 kms from the eye of the storm the Plantation Island resort in the Yasawa and Mamanuca group said they had one brief rain shower, a breezy day, a calm lagoon and 300 guests continuing to enjoy their holiday.

Being well-informed means you‘re less likely to over-react. But remember, if you don‘t feel comfortable with the situation make the decision to leave as early as possible. There‘s nothing worse than checking out of your hotel and then being stranded when the airport is closed by bad weather.

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6 Comments

  • Gabrielle said

    Just wanted to say, that ive been wanting to go to fiji for years, and ive been doing a lot of research about it. This makes me feel a lot better now, now that i know what to do if something bad is actually about to happen. Hopefully see you in 2017 fiji!!! xxxxxx

  • Marika said

    Hi Gabrielle, I am going there in march this year. If you would like to come.

    You're welcome!

  • Nick said

    I'm here in Nadi Fiji right now - this Cyclone Winston is coming and it appears to late to get out - I'm staying at the Hilton in Denariu - everyone here seems so calm and collected like it's no big deal, but I'm a little nervous - good advice - I'll let you know how it goes ---- our room is beautiful, only issue is all glass windows to ocean - not sure what to do about that really - maybe they put us in a shelter or something

  • Dsands said

    My prayers to all facing this Storm. I was planning a trip to Fiji in June when the tornado season blows over. It's doubtful I'll visit this year while Fiji is in recovery mode after such a horrific tornado. Blessings to all keep strength and Fiji spirit alive.

  • Anika said

    Sorta wanted to know how often they occur?

  • lemiah williams said

    what are some possible solutions in fiji to cause the effects

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