In his 35 years of experience at the Cook Islands Meteorological Service, Arona Ngari will never forget the 1997 tragedy of Tropical Cyclone Martin.
With tears streaming down his face, the memory of Tropical Cyclone Martin remains a heart touching and emotional story for Ngari – 19 lives were lost from the northern Cook Islands including Manihiki.
He recalls personally distributing warnings well in advance that Friday morning where he spoke to the then National Disaster Management Office now Emergency Management Cook Islands and followed standard operation procedures.
The most tragic storm hit Cook Islands on November 1, 1997 where waves rose up from the sea higher than coconut trees and left taking with it, homes, businesses, boats and people.
“It was the only event that took a lot of lives,” Ngari says.
Ngari lost loved ones and close family members on this day.
His dad was part of the recovery team and his brother who was member of the New Zealand Army arrived and was based in Manihiki as part of the recovery team as well.
From this extremely personal experience, Ngari believes that it is important to give warning to people about the weather and to give the correct information.
Ngari joined the weather office on February 12, 1984. He was 24 then.
He says he got the job by accident when he missed out on a career in health as a lab technician. A vacancy at the weather office came up and he applied.
At that time, he was filling the position of a young Rakahanga man who passed away in an accident during the festive season.
Ngari says he was not fascinated by the weather “at all”.
But as time went on and he began to take on responsibility in the office he says: “I saw the fascination in it, the water cycle, Walker Circulation, La Nina and El Nino and rainfall patterns.”
After a year as a “newbie” in the office, in 1985 Ngari was given the opportunity to return to Rakahanga, his home island, where he served as a meteorological officer.
The posting gave him the opportunity to learn his culture and understand the lifestyle of his island people.
Ngari never knew that on his return to Rarotonga, his major career breakthrough was waiting for him – the director of meteorological service position was for him to fill.
Now he has 24 (currently 12) staff under his wing, being guided with 35 years of experience. Thirteen of his staff are based in Rarotonga.
Automatic weather systems have been installed in Aitutaki, Mangaia, Atiu, Mauke, Mitiaro, Manihiki, Rakahanga, Penrhyn and Pukapuka and Ngari gives his officers a hands-on session as part of their training.
Staff are taken through an induction to understand basic procedures and meteorological phenomena and how they work, he says.
As they progress through the monitoring of the weather and are confident and well versed with terminologies, they are allotted to specialised training overseas such as in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, USA depending on the availability of the training facility.
They receive specialised training in tropical cyclone forecasting, climatology, technic installation and maintenance of meteorological equipment and seismology.
The first known recording of rainfall in Cook Islands was in October of 1899.
The observation was taken where the then meteorological office was, at the now New Zealand High Commissioner’s residence.
Years later in July 1934, the office was relocated to Blackrock next to the golf club.
On June 1950 to August 1967 it was located at the Old Terminal Airport.
When Ngari joined the weather office it was already in Nikao where it is currently situated.
Despite Covid-19 being a major setback and challenge for many this year, the meteorological team stands by their aim to give accurate meteorological information to help minimise the risk of loss of life and property.
“Information is crucial and especially accurate information,” says Ngari.