Rarotonga and the other southern Cook Islands face an elevated cyclone risk in coming months.
According to New Zealand’s National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research, the southern group “may experience two or more cyclones” between November and April.
The government scientists project nine to 12 named tropical cyclones could occur during this period in the southwest Pacific basin, which includes the Cook Islands. Four severe cyclones reaching Category 3 or higher might occur anywhere across the region.
Cook Islands Meteorological Service director Arona Ngari warned the projection should not be taken lightly.
The predicted cyclones were likely to hit the southern group in the latter part of the season, he said. February to April were the highest risk.
A similar cyclone forecast was made in 2009 – and the grim warning was borne out. “We had a couple of cyclones in the 2009/10 season but none as devastating as Cyclone Pat which struck Aitutaki in 2010,” Ngari said.
Cyclone Pat, a category three storm, swept over the island in early February, wreaking havoc and destroying homes. The total damage was estimated to be about $21.6 million.
Ngari said the major focus in the coming months should be raising awareness to get people prepared for any such disasters. “The southern Cook Islands should be okay when it comes to infrastructure but I think there may be a bit of work required in this area on some islands. But the most important thing is more awareness in the community so that people treat such projections with some caution.
“The Met Office will keep a close look at any severe weather situation in the coming months and we will keep the public informed through our social media and the news bulletins in the newspaper and radio.”
Emergency Management Cook Islands director Charles Carlson said the onus was on the people to prepare themselves for any adverse weather in the coming cyclone season.
“Everyone knows its cyclone season and it’s time to prepare. We have been blessed not having any of these damaging cyclones come our way,” Carlson said. “So let us not be complacent, be prepared.”
The New Zealand National Institute and Meteorological Service projections said about four storms were anticipated to reach at least Category 3 strength, with mean wind speeds of at least 118 km/h winds.
“Past years with conditions similar to present suggest several storms that develop could intensify to at least Category 3 strength. Category 5 strength cyclones, where wind gusts exceed 199 km/h, have occurred in some years,” they said.
“All communities should remain alert and well-prepared for severe events.”
On Rarotonga, Tupapa-Maraerenga MP George Angene has already been out with locals, clearing streams in preparation for cyclone season.
“Why wait until the heavy rain comes or when a hurricane hits us?” he asked.
In the early 1970s and 1980s the maintenance of keeping the streams and bridges cleared of debris and trash was overseen by the community or the Mayor and the village committee, on a Saturday.
Today, he said, people were too busy, and the youth had sports games. “You can’t force them to help out with these things, they either want to be paid in cash or with alcohol.”