What You Need to Know About Cyclones in Tonga
Tropical cyclones that develop in the South Pacific sometimes affect Tonga. If you are planning to visit Tonga during Tonga’s summer season, there is a small risk of experiencing a cyclone. With that in mind, it’s best to be informed so you know how to prepare for a cyclone in Tonga.
Tonga has a history of cyclone activity, the worst recorded being the category 5 Cyclone Gita in February 2018. Other impactful cyclones include Cyclone Hina, Kina, Waka and Ian.
For more information on Tonga’s climate, take a look at What is the Weather Like in Tonga?
When is the Cyclone Season in Tonga?
The cyclone season in the South Pacific starts in November and ends in April. This is during Tonga’s summer season or “wet season”. The peak months for cyclones being more likely to develop are December, January and February. There is also a higher risk of cyclones during an El Nino year.
Learn more about the seasons in Tonga here.
Cyclone Warnings in Tonga
The weather is well monitored by the Tonga Meteorological Service and the New Zealand MetService, so cyclones are reported as soon as there are signs that they are beginning to develop. In short, a cyclone is extremely unlikely to take you by surprise, which gives you time to prepare.
How Cyclones are Reported
The first sign of a cyclone forming in the South Pacific might come from a “tropical depression”. Meteorologists will keep an eye on a depression that becomes a storm if wind speeds reach 65-120km/h (40-73 mph). If the wind speeds increase further, then the cyclone will be declared and given a name. Cyclones affecting Tonga in the past have been called “Gita” and “Waka”, for example. When a cyclone is given a name, it is widely reported in the media across Tonga and the rest of the Oceania continent.
Cyclones are given a category to showcase how severe they are. Category 1 is the weakest with wind speeds of 88-125km/h (55-78mph) and Category 5 is the strongest with wind speeds greater than 250km/h (155mph).
Meteorologists will draw up a five-day forecast outlining a path that they think the cyclone will take, which gives people within or near the path time to prepare. The path prediction is usually quite broad, as an exact path is difficult to determine, but updates are given as more data becomes available.
The Dangers of Cyclones
Why do you need to prepare for a cyclone? The severe gale force winds can cause significant damage to weaker structures in Tonga, for instance, buildings in villages and small towns. There may also be damage to power lines causing blackouts, damage to crops and trees, and dangerous airborne debris. Another danger can be contaminated tap water, although we recommend that you always filter (with a Lifestraw bottle, for instance) or boil tap water in Tonga before you drink it.
It’s important to note that cyclone damage is quite localised, significantly affecting the areas in its path rather than the entire country. For example, cyclones in the past have only damaged a small group of islands in Tonga, rather than every island in Tonga.
How to Prepare for a Cyclone
The first way to be prepared for a cyclone in Tonga is to be aware of weather warnings during your stay. If you’re visiting Tonga during the cyclone season, between November and April, be sure to check weather reports regularly.
Given the nature of cyclones, it’s difficult to determine exactly how much damage they will cause. With this in mind, it’s better to be overprepared than underprepared.
Ask your accommodation-provider what is the cyclone procedure for the building? They will know which is the strongest part of the building in the likely scenario that you need to stay where you are during a cyclone.
Have an emergency kit at the ready, such as clothes, food and water for three days. It’s also useful to have a battery-operated radio (or spare batteries for your smartphone, for instance, where you can listen to the radio), as well as a torch with spare batteries. Make sure you know the emergency number for Tonga: 911.
Keep following the news and progress of the cyclone through radio, TV, text messages and online news outlets. You’ll be informed if evacuation is necessary. Official advice will be given through local radio, TV and text messages. Learn more about getting a Tongan phone number in The Best SIM Card in Tonga For Travellers.
What to Do if There is a Cyclone While You are in Tonga
If you are in Tonga during a cyclone, don’t panic but also don’t underestimate the damage a cyclone can cause. As long as you remain in a safe place and follow the advice of local authorities throughout the storm, you should be able to wait out the storm. Historically, fatalities have been very low during cyclones in Tonga. For instance, only two people in Tonga died during Tonga’s worst recorded cyclone, Cyclone Gita.
What to Do in a Cyclone
- Stay indoors in a secure area – follow the advice of your hotel or accommodation provider
- Disconnect appliances
- Stay clear of windows and doors
- If in a weaker structure, open the window away from the direction of the wind to keep pressure off the roof
- If the building you are in breaks up, protect yourself with mattresses, rugs, etc. and get under something solid like a table
- Don’t go in or near the ocean
- Don’t drink tap water for a few days after the storm – treat water first using our tips in the 5 Ways to Make Sure the Water is Safe to Drink in Tonga.