With the severe tropical storm/future cyclone BERGUITTA on the way, I thought I would write a bit about the warning system and generally about life on tropical islands when we have a beast one the way.
I am by no means an expert (and I really don’t pretend to be) but as a member of the public this is what I see happening.
- News about BERGUITTA
The severe tropical storm is still located on the North Western side of Rodrigues – the island has been in cyclone warning Class 3 since Saturday evening. Apparently there is a front south of Madagascar preventing BERGUITTA to move south, so as predicted it is going a bit North East at the moment. The storm hasn’t moved that much these past 24 hours and the system is increasing. As you can see the eye has just formed and the system is now clearly getting together – as far as I understand it should accelerate again. News from Rodrigues this morning are very strong winds but very little rain.
On this satellite shot you can easily see the storm /future cyclone formation and to the left first Mauritius and then Reunion Island.
For the moment we wait and see… JTWC (Joint Typhoon Warning Center) calculations predicts a direct hit sometime on Wednesday/Thursday – other agencies are kinder to us. Metro France Reunion predicts a trajectory to the East of Mauritius and Reunion Island.
- Mauritius and Rodrigues Warning System
We have 4 classes in the Mauritian warning system, from Class 1 to Class 4 – Class 1 being the first and Class 4 the highest.
Class I: Issued 36 to 48 hours before Mauritius or Rodrigues is likely to be affected by gusts reaching 120 km/h. This is used when a cyclone is in the area and there is a potential risk. It is the warning that the population should start to get ready for a potential storm. (We have not reached this yet – simply because the trajectory of BERGUITTA is not yet deemed certain enough).
Class II: Issued so as to allow, as far as practicable, 12 hours of daylight before the occurrence of gusts of 120 km/h. Government closes all schools and kids are sent home. The population start to stock up on food and water, prepare the houses for the arrival of the storm/cyclone.
Class III: Issued so as to allow, as far as practicable, 6 hours of daylight before the occurrence of gusts of 120 km/h. Patio and terraces should be cleared, everything that could potentially fly should be stored inside. Roads are closed to general public. Airport is closed.
Class IV: Issued when gusts of 120 km/h have been recorded in some places and are expected to continue. Well this means that the cyclone is most probably going to hit or come very very close. Expect power cuts, phone lines to go down… stay safe and inside the house.
If it is a direct hit – meaning the cyclone passes on the island – there will be a moment of complete calm: that is the eye of the cyclone – or the middle of the cyclone. IT DOESNT NOT mean it is over, but the winds will start again with as much force and then blow in the opposite direction.
- Where to get the most reliable information
This is probably the most important. Many become ‘Wannabe meteorological stars’ in times of cyclone, and today with social media, all kinds of information is out there – some is true, some is not.
The thing is: nobody can really predict what is going to happen! Big agencies (and the only ones, one should follow) calculate based on previous cycles the highest probality and that’s that. We know of course that the risk of BERGUITTA coming very close is high – because that’s the path other cyclones have followed in the past. But each storm is unique – the size, the temperature of the water, the temperature of the air several thousand kilometres away can influence the storm. Apparently, that is what is happening – the anticyclone located south of Madagascar puts pressure on BERGUITTA forcing it to move North.
Mauritius Meteorological Services (MMS): Our local Meteorological station is located in Vacoas, in the center of the island. The met station (along with the Government) is the one issuing the warnings. Their website http://metservice.intnet.mu issues reports every 6 hours in case of class 1 and 2 warnings and every 3 hours for class 3. (I cannot tell you for class 4, as I have thankfully never experienced it!). The general population do for some reason not trust them very much. I don’t really know where it comes from… well I have the idea that maybe they don’t like the way the MMS communicates, and would like more preventive measures. I can only talk from my experience and since I have been here – I think they do an OK job – Meteorologists around the globe where I have lived are always blamed because their predictions are wrong, so for me nothing knew there!
Meteo France La Réunion: As far as I understand Reunion Island has the general cyclone center for the Indian Ocean. Their website http://www.meteofrance.re is in French but cyclone is the same word and if you snoop around you’ll easily find the predicted tracks and other information. Their warning system is a bit different to ours (they follow the French way – with orange and red alert) but most of the time the 2 stations are more or less in agreement.
JTWC (Joint Typhoon Warning Center): a joint United States Navy – United States Air Force command center located in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Now they are far away but still know what they talk about. One of the admins of the JTWC Facebook page is actually Mauritian. For BERGUITTA, their predictions are a bit more scary… with the terrifying direct hit on both Mauritius and Reunion Island.
MTOTEC: which is also based in la Reunion, monitors all cyclonique activity in the Indian Ocean.
Nobody can really predict what is going to happen!
It is very important to keep a cool head – the probability is still very low – and not one agency is right over another. DINA (famous 2002 cyclone) – that many compare with this one – did a sharp turn at the last moment and even though it was very close (50km from Mauritius), the cyclone did not hit. So please do not trust British newspapers telling you that this is going to be catastrophe, because I am quite sure they don’t know more than the people whose job it is to communicate on the cyclones. (am referring to several articles in British papers as the one in the Sunday Express) – they might be right, they might be wrong, but they are scaremongering. It reminds me when we lived in Amman, Jordan during the Arab Spring – and friends and family in Europe would know ‘more’ about the “terrible demonstrations” we had in Amman – except we did not have any scary or terrible demonstrations in downtown Amman… The military distributed water to the few hundred demonstrators.
For the moment all predictions include a sentence very much like the one from JTWC this morning : ‘confidence in the forecast remains low’.
- How to keep track of all the information
Personally I try not to read too much from other sources than the ones above. To keep track of it all however and get some more ‘human’ explanations I follow ‘Storm Tracking‘ on Facebook – a local group with amazing admins (including one from JWTC) – people interested and cool-headed who thoroughly skim through all the information out there and are really careful about what is posted and discussed on the platform. Most is written is French, but most people on the forum speak english and all warnings are posted in both languages.
My updates on BERGUITTA:
Other info on cyclones:
Mauritius Meteorological department Cyclone Precautions
Previous cyclone tracks
In Mauritius the weather bulletins are issued on the MMS website at set times: around 4am, 10am, 4pm, 10pm. In case of Class 3 Cyclone Warning: there are also bulletins at 7am, 1pm, 7pm, 1am – and whenever it is deemed necessary by the meteorological services – in case of radical change or severe rain forecasts which can come very fast.
The information on the Cyclone Warning Classes come from the Mauritian Met Services.
My posts from last year about cyclonic activity on Mauritius in 2017.