Many vulnerable Pacific nations will have more time to prepare for tropical cyclones thanks to a new model that can generate frequency predictions up to four months before the start of the cyclone season.
Current models can only work one month ahead, says the development team, which brought together climate scientists from Australia’s University of Newcastle and New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).
In total, 12 sub-regional and individual country outlooks can be derived for the southwest Pacific region.
Fiji, the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Tonga feature individually due to the high risk and impact of cyclones in those countries. New Zealand also features because of impacts associated with ex-tropical cyclones.
“This will allow government and aid agencies to prepare enough supplies for the season ahead and will mean that there is more time for decision makers to communicate with communities and people on the ground, allowing for sufficient planning,” says Newcastle’s Andrew Magee.
The development is described in a paper in the journal Scientific Reports.
Building on previous work, Magee and colleagues use ocean temperatures and other atmospheric measurements to better predict the erratic pattern of cyclones. They can re-run the model every month to include the most recent events and update advice.
“Tropical cyclones are erratic, spatially and temporally, and every season is different,” says Magee.
Cyclone season typically runs from November to April across the southwest Pacific. Due to their relative isolation and high shorelines, island nations are vulnerable both to the cyclones and to related events such as storm surge and flooding.
Tropical cyclones account for 76% of disasters across the region, the researchers say, and since 1950 they have claimed nearly 1500 lives and significantly affected an estimated three million people.
The new model is freely available on the Long-Range Tropical Cyclone Outlook for the Southwest Pacific (TCO-SP) website.
Amelia Nichele is a science journalist at The Royal Institution of Australia.
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