As Cyclone Lola gathers strength, it poses a growing threat to northern Vanuatu. The second-largest city, Luganvile, is bracing for the impact as heavy rain and gale-force winds approach the region. This severe tropical cyclone has already been upgraded to Category 3, with winds gusting at speeds of up to 185km/h. Meteorological forecasts suggest that it may intensify further to Category 4 by midnight, according to the Fiji MetService.
Local authorities are issuing urgent warnings to communities, advising them to stock up on essential supplies like food and water and prepare for possible evacuations in the event of flooding. Vanuatu’s Disaster Management Office has taken steps to establish evacuation centers in anticipation of the cyclone’s arrival.
Philip Meto, the principal provincial Liaison Officer with the Vanuatu Disaster Management Office, emphasized that the people of Vanuatu are well aware of the risks posed by cyclones. In flood-prone areas, evacuations are a common response to these threats, often involving over 100 individuals.
However, Meto noted that their communication networks are limited, urging residents to access official updates on social media and continue to listen to the radio for real-time information.
Luganville Municipal Council is working closely with the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office to prepare for the cyclone’s impact. They have advised residents to stay home and be well-prepared for the storm. In a yellow alert zone, people are encouraged to stockpile essential items and take precautions such as trimming trees that could pose a danger during strong winds.
The local police in Luganvile are also playing a crucial role in securing parts of the town and collaborating with the community to ensure safety and preparedness.
However, there is a growing concern that people may not be taking the warnings as seriously as they should. The Vanuatu Police issued a stern message via social media, urging residents to heed the warnings and not wait until the cyclone is imminent to begin preparations.
The province of Torba, Penama, and Sanma is expected to be directly impacted by hurricane-force winds of up to 185km/h over the next 48 to 72 hours. Flash flooding, coastal flooding, and rough seas with heavy swells are expected throughout Vanuatu.
While Cyclone Lola’s early arrival is unusual, meteorologists attribute its strength to favorable conditions, including warm sea surface temperatures and light upper-level winds. The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in New Zealand predicts a higher-than-average cyclone season with an estimated nine to fourteen cyclones, of which four to eight may be severe. The influence of El Niño has raised the risk of cyclone activity in the South Pacific, affecting countries like Fiji, the Cook Islands, and others in the region.
El Niño has historically been associated with an increased likelihood of severe cyclones, as demonstrated during the 1982/83 El Niño event when the South Pacific experienced ten severe cyclones.