Powerful Tropical Cyclone Gita Hits Tonga, Threatens Southern Fiji

Powerful Tropical Cyclone Gita hit the most populated islands in Tonga on Monday and moved west to threaten the southernmost islands of Fiji.  Gita brought strong winds and very heavy rain to Tongapatu and Eau on Monday and there were reports of damage from Tonga.  At 10:00 p.m. EST on Monday the center of Tropical Cyclone Gita was located at latitude 21.1°S and longitude 178.9°W which put it about 300 miles (480 km) southeast of Suva, Fiji.  Gita was moving toward the west at 14 m.p.h. (22 km/h).  The maximum sustained wind speed was 140 m.p.h. (220 km/h) and there were wind gusts to 165 m.p.h. (270 km/h).  The minimum surface pressure was 935 mb.  Tropical Cyclone Gita was the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.

Gita remains a powerful tropical cyclone.  There is a circular eye at the center of circulation.  The eye is surrounded by a ring of strong thunderstorms and the strongest winds are occurring in that ring.  A rainband has wrapped most of the way around the core of Tropical Cyclone Gita and there are indications that a second, concentric eyewall is forming.  Other rainbands are revolving around the core of the circulation.  Storms in the core are producing strong upper level divergence which is pumping away mass and is allowing the tropical cyclone to remain very strong.  Winds to hurricane/typhoon force extend out about 60 miles (95 km) from the center of circulation.  Winds to tropical storm force extend out about 200 miles (320 km) from the center.

The Hurricane Intensity Index (HII) for Tropical Cyclone Gita is 28.3.  The Hurricane Size Index (HSI) is 20.5 and the Hurricane Wind Intensity Size Index (HWISI) is 48.8.  Those indices indicate that Tropical Cyclone Gita is capable of causing significant damage.

Tropical Cyclone Gita will remain in an environment favorable for strong tropical cyclones for another 24 to 36 hours.  Gita will move over water where the Sea Surface Temperature is near 30°C.  The upper level winds are weak and there is not much vertical wind shear.  If a second concentric eyewall forms, then an eyewall replacement cycle could produce a fluctuation in intensity.  Gita could weaken when the inner eyewall dissipates.  The circulation could strengthen again if the outer eyewall remains intact and starts to contract around the center of circulation.

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 48 to 72 hours.  On its anticipated track Tropical Cyclone Gita could move over the southernmost islands of Fiji on Tuesday.  The strongest part of Gita could affect Vatoa, Ono-i-lau, Tuvana-i-colo and Tuvana-i-ra.  Gita could bring destructive winds, locally heavy rain and storm surges to the southernmost parts of Fiji.  Tropical Cyclone Gita could approach southern Vanuatu and New Caledonia in about three days.