By Samisoni Pareti
Air and sea travel have almost grounded to a halt in Fiji as the island nation batters down for the approaching tropical cyclone now named Mona.
Fiji Airways’ domestic operator, Fiji Link confirmed that six of its flights from Nadi and Suva to the northern towns of Labasa, Savusavu and Taveuni have been cancelled today “due to impending adverse weather conditions associated with Tropical Cyclone Mona.”
The cancellation however has not reached its international flights, although Fiji Airways is urging customers to check on flight updates on their fijiairways.com website.
Local ferry operator Goundar Shipping had put out radio messages to announce that it is also cancelling services until the cyclone passes.
At 7am Fiji time today, the Fiji Meteorological Service says Tropical Cyclone Mona was located 240km north of Yasawa I rara, on Fiji’s northwest, or about 200km northwest of Labasa, in northern Fiji.
Close to its centre, average winds is estimated to be about 85km per hour with momentary gusts to 120km per hour. It is moving currently on a south-southwest direction at about 20km per hour.
Fiji Met has issued a gale warning for islands in Fiji’s western sea borders of Yasawa and Mamanuca Groups, and a tropical cyclone alert for the rest of the Yasawa Group, the northern islands of Vanua Levu and Taveuni and nearby smaller islands.
Strong wind warning has been issued for Kadavu, down south, and nearby smaller islands, northern Viti Levu from Rakiraki to Tailevu North, and heavy rain warning remains in force for the Yasawas, Mamanuca, Vanua Levu, Taveuni and nearby smaller islands, eastern regions of Viti Levu that includes the capital, Suva, and Lau and Lomaiviti groups.
Because it is slow moving, it has been difficult for meteorologists to track and predict the likely path Tropical Cyclone Mona will take.
Fiji Met is predicting that Mona although moving currently on a south-southwest direction, will later today swing back towards the southeast, and if this happens, it will make landfall on the northern town of Labasa early on Sunday.
Its tracking map is projecting that the eye of the storm will cut through Vanua Levu, down the Lomaiviti Group, veering somewhat to the west slipping past the east of the capital, Suva on the evening of Sunday as it continues on its southerly direction.
Windy.com, an internet-based weather app is predicting a similar path, although at a much slower pace. It is projecting that Mona won’t make landfall near Labasa until Sunday evening and won’t slip past Suva until Monday morning.
It is also predicting heavy rain especially on the north, east and south regions of Fiji, as well as extremely rough seas.
Fiji Met says mariners should expect northeast to southeast winds of 20 to 30 knots, gusting to 35 knots. There will be moderate southerly swells, and poor visibility in areas of rain and thunderstorms.
Private weather bureau based in Suva, Nadraki admits that forecasting the movement of Tropical Cylone Mona has been difficult, acknowledging that the Fiji Met Service is projecting a north to south path, cutting through Vanua Levu, and moving closer to the capital on its way further south.
Nadraki however predicts a more western path for the cyclone, and that it will affect northern and western parts of the main island of Viti Levu more than the eastern or southern regions.
“There is also much greater risk of heavy rain and flooding over Viti Levu and if this is how things unfold we could see widespread rain heavy at times through much of the coming weekend over Fiji. There is a potential for major flooding, although at this time the extent of flooding will be determined by the movement of TC Mona over coming days and also it is likely that heavy rain and flooding over the west, should it occur, would not commence for another 12 to 18 hours at least,” the private weather service predicts in its Facebook page.
“Today is expected to be humid and mostly cloudy with periods of rain over Vanua Levu, Taveuni and Lomaiviti this morning heavy at times. This rain is forecast to spread over Viti Levu and Kadavu and nearby smaller islands overnight and early tomorrow. This rain may continue for 24 to 36 hours over much of Fiji this weekend. All communities should be prepared for hazardous weather over coming days, namely widespread heavy rain and flooding, and damaging storm force winds gusting to 105 kph.
“Please continue to heed official warnings while keeping in mind the increased risk of a more direct impact on the west over the weekend,” Nadraki Weather adds.