Cyclone Harold Batters Fiji, Tonga Could Be Next
After flattening buildings and cutting communications on the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu Monday and Tuesday, Cyclone Harold moved on to batter Fiji Wednesday.
The storm is also expected to reach the island nation of Tonga within days, in a reminder of how vulnerable Pacific nations are to extreme weather events supercharged by the climate crisis and made more dangerous by sea level rise.
"It is unfair that countries on the frontlines of the crisis, like those in the Pacific, are constantly having to bear the brunt of the economic impacts of extreme weather events, that are made worse by carbon pollution in places like Australia," Greenpeace Australia Pacific Head of Pacific Joseph Moeono-Kolio said in a statement.
After smashing northern Vanuatu, Cyclone Harold looks set to wreak havoc in both Fiji and Tonga. Tough times across… https://t.co/IKsygheMyD— Dr Wesley Morgan (@Dr Wesley Morgan)1586290822.0
"The worst of TC Harold will strike Fiji through this afternoon … Flying debris and floodwaters can be deadly. All Fijians should stay indoors unless directed to evacuate," Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama warned early Wednesday.
Injuries were reported in Suva, according to Reuters, but the storm also cut communication lines.
"We've seen reports of injuries," Vasiti Soko, the director of the National Disaster Management Office, told Reuters by telephone. "As to the number, as well as the intensity, of the injuries, that's yet to be ascertained."
Not too long ago around our cafe in Ba @MaiLifeMagazine #TCHarold #fiji https://t.co/4b97XTvz2U— Lisi Naziah Tora Ali-Krishna (@Lisi Naziah Tora Ali-Krishna)1586295228.0
There is discrepancy in the reports of how intense Harold was when it reached Fiji. Reuters reports it was still a Category 5 storm, while The Guardian said it had decreased to a Category 4.
In either case, the storm's arrival was complicated by the need to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
Fiji is in lockdown and currently has 15 confirmed cases and no deaths, The New York Times reported.
However, the government said on Twitter it had taken measures to prepare for a storm striking during the outbreak.
"Given this virus struck Fiji in cyclone season, we knew from the start we had to weatherproof our Covid-19 containment efforts to the very real possibility of a severe storm striking," the government wrote.
Thank God we have, as Cyclone Harold –– a category five cyclone currently rivalling the strength of TC Winston –– i… https://t.co/K3BHaTWGYZ— Fijian Government (@Fijian Government)1586226187.0
Bainimarama said those measures included virus-proofing shelters.
"Our evacuation centres are safe, they are sanitised and monitored to ensure they do not surpass capacity," he said in a social media post reported by Reuters. "Those under quarantine due to the threat of coronavirus will not mix with others."
There have been no reports of fatalities in the storm, but 10 homes in Suva were destroyed.
Meanwhile, the extent of the damage in Vanuatu is still uncertain, as communications are still down to the hardest-hit islands of Espiritu Santo, Malo and Pentecost, according to The Guardian. It is expected their restoration will bring bad news today.
It is known that northern Vanuatu suffered its worst direct hit from a topical cyclone on record, The Washington Post reported.
Next in the crosshairs is Tonga, where a supermoon and high tide warning for Thursday and Friday could exacerbate the damage, The Guardian reported. The storm is expected to strike the country in 48 hours.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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