Powerful Tropical Cyclone Gita Threatens Tonga

Powerful Tropical Cyclone Gita posed an increasing threat to Tonga on Sunday night.  At 10:00 p.m. EST the center of Tropical Cyclone Gita was located at latitude 21.7°S and longitude 173.2°W which put it about 120 miles (195 km) east of Nuku’Alofa, Tonga.  Gita was moving toward the west at 13 m.p.h. (21 km/h).  The maximum sustained wind speed was 125 m.p.h. (200 km/h) and there were wind gusts to 155 m.p.h. (205 km/h).  The minimum surface pressure was 944 mb.  Tropical Cyclone Gita was the equivalent of a major hurricane.

The circulation of Tropical Cyclone Gita is very well organized.  There is a circular eye at the center of circulation.  A ring of strong thunderstorms surrounds the eye and the strongest winds are occurring in that eye.  Bands of showers and thunderstorms are revolving around the core of Tropical Cyclone Gita.  Storms in the core are generating strong upper level divergence which is pumping mass away in all directions.  Winds to hurricane/typhoon force extend out about 50 miles (80 km) from the center of circulation.  Winds to tropical storm force extend out about 165 miles (270 km) from the center.

The Hurricane Intensity Index (HII) for Tropical Cyclone Gita is 23.6.  The Hurricane Size Index (HSI) is 16.0 and the Hurricane Wind Intensity Size Index (HWISI) is 39.6.  Those indices indicate that Gita will be capable of causing major damage when it moves over Tonga on Monday.

Tropical Cyclone Gita will be moving through an environment favorable for strong tropical cyclones during the next 24 to 48 hours.  Gita will move over water where the Sea Surface Temperature is near 30°C.  The upper level winds are weak and there is little vertical wind shear.  The favorable environment could allow Tropical Cyclone Gita to intensify more before it reaches Tonga.

Tropical Cyclone Gita is moving north of a subtropical ridge which is steering the tropical cyclone toward the west.  A general motion toward the west is expected to continue for another two or three days.  On its anticipated track the center of Tropical Cyclone Gita could reach Tonga within 12 hours.  Tropical Cyclone Gita will be capable of causing major wind damage when it reaches Tonga.  Gita will also drop heavy rain and flooding is possible.  Winds blowing the wind toward the coast could also produce significant storm surges in some locations.