23 Oct 2023

Severe tropical Cyclone Lola upgraded to Category 3

10:01 pm on 23 October 2023
SOUTH 169.2 EAST AT 230000 UTC.

Tropical Cyclone Lola is approaching Vanuatu. Photo: Fiji Meteteorological Service

Cyclone Lola is heading towards northern Vanuatu and is expected to hit the second largest city Luganvile at midday Tuesday as heavy rain and gale force winds descend across the region.

Authorities are telling communities to stock food, water and prepare to evacuate their homes in case of flooding.

The cyclone is already a Category 3 with winds gusting to 185km/h but it could reach Category 4 by midnight according to the Fiji MetService.

Philip Meto, principal provincial Liason Officer with Vanuatu Disaster Management Office, said people were aware of the cyclone risks and evacuation centres had been set up.

Live updates on the cyclone's path:

  • Vanuatu latest warnings
  • Fiji Cyclone track map
  • "People are looking at the different changes in the clouds. The place is getting dark, rain is coming in.

    "Most of the people are aware and they are prepared to leave."

    He said in previous cyclones, in flood-prone areas "more than 100 people are usually evacuated."

    Meto said their communications network was limited and urged people to access official updates on social media and continue listening to the radio.

    Luganville Municipal Council was working with the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office and people were advised not to go into work.

    The council's evacuation team spokesperson, Colenette Tapi, said ward secretaries are "passing on information" and "making sure people are prepared."

    "We are trying to get people prepared like stocking food and cutting down trees.

    "We are in a yellow alert. People should be at home and well prepared for the cyclone."

    Police in Luganvile were also assisting to secure parts of the town and working alongside the community in preparation.

    Vanuatu Police warned people on a social media post to not make light of the cyclone warnings.

    "According to past experiences people have not taken seriously the warnings that the Vanuatu Meteorology and Geohazards department put out.

    "This is the time for us to prepare ourselves. Let's not wait until the cyclone is upon us to start preparing."

    Police urged people to "listen and follow the warnings that are being issued so that we are prepared and safe during the cyclone."

    Meanwhile, people in the province of Torba, Penama and Sanma will be directly affected in the next 48 to 72 hours by hurricane force winds of up to 185km/h.

    Heavy rainfalls with flash flooding are expected over low lying areas and areas close to river banks, including coastal flooding, over the Vanuatu group late Monday-Tuesday.

    Very rough seas with heavy swells are expected over all Vanuatu waters. Seagoing vessels are advised to take extra precautions.

    New Zealand MetService duty meteorologist Philippa Murdoch said the storm was a little ahead of the tropical cyclone season for the area.

    "This one is slightly early," she said.

    "The season usually starts at the beginning of November, but we've got all the right ingredients."

    Murdoch said these factors included warm sea surface temperatures and quite light winds aloft, which means there was nothing to break it up.

    The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in New Zealand expects nine to 14 cyclones this season - nine being the long-term average.

    Four to eight of these are expected to be severe.

    NIWA meteorologist Ben Noll said El Niño had increased the risk.

    "El Niño, it does tend to enhance the risk for cyclone activity near and east of the International Dateline, so for countries like Fiji, the Cook Islands, and many in between."

    During El Niño 1982/83, there were 10 severe cyclones in the South Pacific.