Tropical Cyclone Pam, a monster storm in the South Pacific, is thrashing the capital island of Vanuatu in the dead of night, in what has turned out to be the nightmare scenario for the tiny island nation that faces some of the most pressing worries from rising sea levels and climate change.
Unfortunately, the cyclone has been bucking the forecast on a more westward path for a couple of days now, and Vanuatu is paying the price as it swipes Efate at what appears to be its peak intensity.
#CyclonePam is hitting the SW of Port Vila the worst case scenario says UN monitor @ABCNews24 #theworld— Beverley O'Connor (@bevvo14) March 13, 2015
Pam’s sustained winds are up to 165 mph, with gusts nearing 200 mph, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center. The weather station at the airport in Port Vila went offline around 8 p.m. local time, 5 a.m. Eastern Time. Its last report was rapidly falling pressure and sustained winds of 46 mph. Now that Efate is essentially in the eye wall of the cyclone, those measurements have likely at least doubled, if not tripled.
The hurricane-chasing team “iCyclone” is in Vanuatu and providing and seeking reports on Facebook. Some people on Vanuatu have been able to post replies via mobile service, but there has been widespread power loss. “I am in Port Vila,” one Facebook user writes. “The power is off. Water cut off for some houses. Wind is terrifying.”
iCyclone member in #PortVila: 944.6 mb & shifting winds 11:10 pm. Eye scraping E side of Efate. Terrror. #CyclonePAM pic.twitter.com/JrtkTsLAS6— Josh Morgerman (@iCyclone) March 13, 2015
Another report from Port Vila: “Just got a text from a friend an hour ago in Malapoa, his roof has gone is being flooded and is burying himself in the mud under the foundations to try and stay put. We have a house in Vila and are assuming it will be gone by morning. Please pray for them. This is unbelievable — all other comms are out.”
The Facebook page Humans of Vanuatu, which typically shares the everyday lives of Vanuatuans, has been providing updates on the cyclone since earlier this week.
Around 10 p.m. Vanuatu time, the Humans of Vanuatu Facebook page signed off after the Internet went out.
Mashable’s Andrew Freedman writes that Vanuatu is particularly susceptible to natural disasters:
A recent report on natural disaster vulnerability found that Port Vila is the most exposed city to natural disasters of any of the 1,300 cities studied. The Natural Hazards Risk Atlas, published by the British analytics company Verisk Maplecroft, found that Port Vila is at risk for earthquakes, tsunamis and tropical cyclones.Global warming-related sea level rise is leading to more damaging coastal flooding in island nations such as Vanuatu. The country is one of a bloc of small island states lobbying industrialized nations to undertake steep carbon emissions reductions to avert the most significant impacts of global warming. Other members of the small island alliance also were effected by Cyclone Pam, including Kiribati and the Solomon Islands.
Pam has been strengthening into a monster since Tuesday, when it rapidly intensified from the equivalent of a category 2 to a category 4 in under 24 hours. Since then it has slowly continued to gain strength, reaching category 5 status on Thursday. Recent unofficial satellite analysis suggests Pam’s central pressure is down to an astonishingly low 890 millibars, with winds up to 177 mph.
VIIRS image from 02z of core of the tropical cyclone & latest satellite intensity estimate of #Pam in S Pacific pic.twitter.com/4A1FDoStCo— Stu Ostro (@StuOstro) March 13, 2015
Tropical Cyclone Pam is the strongest of four cyclones in the midst of a very active period on the other side of the globe. Tropical Cyclone Nathan, which is currently spinning just off the coast of Queensland, Australia, is expected to strengthen into a Category 2 as it tracks east over the weekend. Though the storm is likely to weaken after that, the remnant system may bring heavy rain to Vanuatu on Monday and Tuesday.