Vanuatu and Tropical Cyclone Pam

Update, March 27, 2015, 2:03 p.m.: Wow – NASA’s Earth Observatory just published before-and-after pictures of Erromango, one of the worst-hit islands in Vanuatu.



And after:

Yes, that brown stuff is the damage.

The other hardest-hit island was Tanna.



And after:



March 18, 2015, 8:56 a.m. Pacific: Almost a week, and they haven’t been able to get past Port Vila to the rest of the island. it should be noted that the capital was on the western side of the island, and even though it lost 90% of its buildings, per this report (from which comes the quote below), it was more sheltered than the eastern side, which took the full brunt of Pam’s winds and surge. The worst of this story hasn’t yet come to light.

Thus it is with immense sadness that I have watched the unfolding news coverage of the devastation of Vanuatu wrought by Cyclone Pam. Described as twice as powerful as Katrina, the Category 5 storm ripped Vanuatu apart with steady 160 mile per hour winds, and gusts of 200 miles per hour. All the coverage of the event thus far has focused on the capital town of Port Vila, on the island of Efate’, because thus far it is the only accessible place. There, over 90 percent of the buildings are said to be badly damaged or irreparably destroyed. But what about the fate of the majority of the Ni-Vanuatu who live on the outer islands? Bamboo huts with palm roofs cannot withstand such tortuous conditions. There is little doubt that the great majority of those living on Vanuatu’s outer islands have seen their idyllic tropical villages entirely devastated. Someplace out there, my young godson Alex is hopefully surviving, but there is no news of his fate at this time, nor of his sisters.

Only Santo island, where over 500,000 U.S. troops were staged during World War II, has any significant modern conveniences, and Santo, no doubt, will turn out to be crippled as well. But aid workers haven’t gotten there yet. And then there are the other far less developed native islands, Ambae, Pentecost, Tanna, Epi, and many more, where the cones of active volcanoes light up the night skies, where life is simple and vibrant, and where kava time brings people together to talk about their day, what they caught fishing, how their taro crop is faring. Their circumstances are dire, their resources meager, their need overwhelmingly great. The people there had little before Pam blew through.

The Vanuatu Post website linked below hasn’t published any news in six days. There is a note there that it will, tomorrow.

Update, March 15, 2015, 3:43 p.m.: The UK’s Guardian is updating the situation in Vanuatu, as it becomes clearer. Apparently they haven’t been able to get confirmation from the outer islands. (h/t to J. Reynolds for link)

Update, March 13, 4:34 p.m., Pacific: Source not confirmed:



Update, March 13, 2015, 9:12 a.m., Pacific: This is probably the most depressing satellite picture of a tropical cyclone that I’ve ever seen, up to and including Haiyan. The eyewall is rolling over Port Vila and its island right now. Sigh.

Joint Typhoon Warning Center

Joint Typhoon Warning Center


Y’know that “after” scene in John Ford’s “The Hurricane”? Yeah.

The Washington Post reports that these stormchasers are in Vanuatu with updates. Lowest pressure they report is 942.1 but nothing recent (it’s a safe assumption there’s no equipment left to measure it currently, though apparently some people there are sending in reports while huddled in houses and bathtubs – it’s happening during the night there). Of note, the lowest recorded pressure for a tropical cyclone in the Pacific (or anywhere else) was 870, not that this is any consolation to Vanuatu right now.

Original post:

I don’t follow tropical cyclones in the Pacific ordinarily, but this tweet caught my eye:

I checked the Joint Typhoon Warning Center website. On Friday, 48 hours from now, as it passes Port Vila, the JTWC predicts Pam will be packing sustained winds 167 mph and gusts of over 200 mph.

Not good. Not good at all. And Port Vila, Vanuatu’s capital, looks so pretty.

Photo by Phillip Capper

Photo by Phillip Capper

Sigh. However, it is reportedly the most risky city in the world, in terms of natural disasters.

Parts of the island nation are already under a warning:

Tropical Cyclone Warning Number 8 for TORBA, PENAMA,SANMA and MALAMPA provinces.

Tropical Cyclone Warning Number 8 issued by the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geo-Hazards
Department, Port Vila at 5:45am VUT Thursday 12 March 2015 for

At 5:00am local time, Severe Tropical Cyclone PAM was located at
11.9 degrees South 170.1 degrees East. This is about 370 KM northeast of
Banks and 420 KM north northeast of Maewo. Pam remains at the bottom
left corner of the square letter J, number 1 (J, 1) of the Vanuatu tropical
cyclone tracking map. Severe Tropical Cyclone PAM moved in a south
direction at 4 KM/HR in the past 3 hours.

The central pressure of the system is estimated at 941 hPa. Winds close to
the centre are estimated at 165 KM/HR. Severe Tropical Cyclone PAM is forecasted
to be at 12.5 degrees South 170.1 degrees East within the next 12 hours.

Damaging gale force winds of 75 KM/HR will affect
TORBA, PENAMA,SANMA and MALAMPA provinces today and continuing tonight.
Winds over these areas will increase to 90 KM/HR as the system later moves
south in the past 3 hours.

Damaging gale force winds of 75 KM/HR will start affecting SHEFA and TAFEA
provinces within the next 24 to 36 hours.

Forecast Positions
Date and Time Position Intensity
+06 hours (11am, 12 Mar) 12.2S, 170.1E 90 KTS (165 KM/HR)
+12 hours (5pm, 12 Mar) 12.5S, 170.1E 90 KTS (165 KM/HR)
+18 hours (11pm, 12 Mar) 12.8S, 170.1E 115 KTS (215 KM/HR)
+24 hours (5am, 13 Mar) 13.2S, 170.0E 115 KTS (215 KM/HR)
+36 hours (5pm, 13 Mar) 14.2S, 170.0E 115 KTS (215 KM/HR)
+48 hours (5am, 14 Mar) 15.4S, 170.1E 115 KTS (215 KM/HR)

Damaging winds and very rough seas with heavy swells will affect
TORBA, PENAMA,SANMA and MALAMPA provinces. Heavy rainfall and flooding, including
flash flooding are expected over low lying areas and areas close to river banks.
Coastal flooding is also expected near the coastal areas.

The Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) advises people, that Yellow
Alert remains in effect for TORBA, SANMA, PENAMA and MALAMPA provinces. For action
on this alert, call the office of the NDMO on 22699 or 33366.

The next warning on Severe Tropical Cyclone PAM will be issued at 9:00am.
People over TORBA, PENAMA,SANMA and MALAMPA provinces and
SHEFA and TAFEA provinces should listen to all Radio Outlets to get the latest
information on this system.

This warning is also available on VMGD’s website,

Here’s the current JTWC infrared satellite image of TC Pam, with Port Vila marked with a red star:

Already a monster, Pam will keep intensifying until it rolls over Vanuatu.  (Joint Typhoon Warning Center)

Already a monster, Pam is forecast to keep intensifying until it rolls over Vanuatu. (Joint Typhoon Warning Center)

And if that’s not scary enough, here’s how Pam looks on the current Earth Wind Map – it’s that red dot:
Yes, there are two other tropical cyclones in the area.

Yes, there are two other tropical cyclones in the area.



The Vanuatu Daily Post (subscription required to read articles, but this paper does have one of the coolest logos I’ve ever seen!)
Vanuatu Daily Digest blog
Port Vila webcams, per Google
Joint Typhoon Warning Center
Vanuatu Meteorological Services Tropical Cyclone Outlook and Warning pages
Australian Bureau of Meteorology Vanuatu page (links to sea level and other data)

Categories: Weather

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