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News and Events

Tropical Cyclone Sandra

15-Mar-2013

Lord Howe is a community of fishermen and surfers, and for this reason we’re all weather nerds. There are at least four global weather models that we watch daily to figure out what we can do on our next day off. Imagine the surprise, when 7 days ago, the WXMAP forecast showed a tropical depression forming off Cairns – which 5 days later would be a Tropical Cyclone heading for Lord Howe Island. “The model’s got a glitch”, or so we thought. Just to be safe, we spoke to Paul Brown, our Executive Chef, about the possibility of a cyclone and he agreed to conserve our food stores, just in case our freight ship and plane were delayed.

By Monday, TropicalCyclone Track 1 Cyclone Sandra had formed in the Coral Sea and was tracking towards New Caledonia, where it slowed and intensified for a day. The updated models mostly predicted that the cyclone would track east towards Fiji, but one suggested a southeast track towards Norfolk Island. At this stage the cyclone moved out of the Australian reporting zone and we had to watch it through the Fiji Weather Service.

On Tuesday, all the models started showing a southeast track toward Norfolk Island and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) began reporting the chance of a cyclone ‘influencing the weather of Norfolk Island towards the end of the week’. No sooner had we settled on the new agreed track, and got excited about the great cyclone swell we’d be surfing later in the week, the WXMAP forecast started showing a dramatic change in direction to the south – towards Lord Howe Island. “Stupid American forecasters” we thought, you should at least check the local BOM models to verify your forecast. A bit harsh, yes, but they are on the other side of the world.

By Tuesday night, the BOM model was showing Severe Tropical Cyclone Sandra on a course for Lord Howe Island (sorry, American forecasters) – still a long way away, and still in the tropics where Tropical Cyclones belong, but nonetheless heading south. The island community started murmuring about the “bad weather” coming, and we had a long hard look in our cool room and freezer. Was there enough food to feed 70 people for another 5 days? Probably – if they were happy with handmade pasta, risotto and lots of duck.

Cyclone track map near Noumea - Lord Howe IslandOn Wednesday, the BOM model was showing a definite track towards Lord Howe, but of more concern was the forecasted intensification of the cyclone to a Category 2. At this stage the weather nerds in the blogosphere got excited – “tropical cyclones don’t intensify as they move into the subtropics” they were saying “oh, except Hurricane Sandy”. Remember that BIG storm in New York last year? The one that flooded tunnels, subway stations and the Jersey Shore? Well, it also intensified against the rules and became one of the most destructive hurricanes in US history. Great news for Lord Howe, and we loved the coincidence in the northern and southern hemisphere naming conventions - Cyclone Sandra and Hurricane Sandy.

By Wednesday night, Lord Howe Island was officially on a Cyclone Warning and we started thinking about all of those people in coastal QLD who deal with these warnings every year. Crack another XXXX? Not at Lord Howe. We went to Rockfest to watch the Freshwater Ukulele Band. You see, this week we have 5 bands playing at Lord Howe every night, and being starved for live music, nothing was going to keep us at home (except a screaming 2 year old in our case). Rockfest would rock on.

A close call - Lord Howe IslandThursday, D-Day, came with dreary skies and colourful BOM maps showing forecasted areas with very destructive winds (red), destructive winds (dark pink) and gale force winds (pink) – all headed for Lord Howe. Sobering for those getting home from Rockfest. Yes – this was the real thing. Not the standard winter East Coast Low or ECL (surfers can explain), but a Category 2 Tropical Cyclone. Our school kids were sent home at midday, and people started preparing. One of our staff members, looking very concerned, asked “does this mean I should put my bike in my room?” If only I could have the worries of an 18 year old again.

By 3pm, our staff and guests were briefed, the lodge was strapped together, the bar fridge was stocked and the board games were out. Yes, Bananagrams is competitive. Then the phone started ringing – ABC Radio State-wide Drive, News Radio National Drive, ABC Radio North Coast. Radio presenters have such a warm and welcoming voice when they’re a long way away.

140km/hr wind on the Lagoon - Lord Howe Island

At 4.30pm, the wind was gusting at 130km/hr and the lagoon was looking like a layer of froth underneath a layer of spray, underneath a layer of mist, underneath a layer of rain. It was quite a sight (and sound). The photos we took from Windy Point and Salmon Beach on the way home, and loaded on to Facebook, were picked up by AAP and went everywhere – ABC news, The Australian, Ninemsn, Yahoo, news.com.au, metro papers and weather blogs. They’re still popping up 24 hours later.

After dinner, the kids went to bed and didn’t seem fazed, or even curious, about the branches falling on the roof above and the freight train gale outside. They slept through the night. We lost Foxtel and settled on a DVD of Peter Kuruvita’s My Sri Lanka with the volume turned up. We still couldn’t hear it. Then the phone rang – it was a journo from AAP asking how we were going. For a second, I felt like one of those ‘’live at the scene’’ weather reporters who stand in flood waters and lean at 45 degrees into gale force winds, just to demonstrate the conditions to their viewers. But then we got talking about surfing, weather and holidays at Lord Howe and had a nice chat. Somewhere buried in the tape of our conversation he found quotes like “scary” and “direct hit” and “ride out the night”, and I felt sensationalised. Oh well, it was kind of scary when we were talking – the wind was gusting at 145km/hr and our back deck looked like a 10 square metre compost heap.

Before bed, we checked the latest BOM Cyclone Track Map, which showed the eye of the Cyclone well to the east of Lord Howe and moving away. It was still wild, but we slept reasonably well knowing that the conditions would ease during the early hours of the morning.

A bit of a mess - Lord Howe IslandFirst light was revealing and best summed up by our 4 year old “that’s a big mess outside”. Yes it was. About a 4 blister mess and only half way through the clean-up. The mess at the lodge was worse – leaves, pine needles (yes Pinetrees is surrounded by pine trees), branches, sand, mud, water and curious guests with cameras and facial expressions that said “lucky that didn’t fall on me when I came home after the spontaneous Cyclone Sandra party in the dining room”. It seems some (actually, probably many) guests failed to heed our suggestion to retire early and, instead, entertained each other with board games and red wine. And good for them!

Luckily for us, the worst of the cyclone was to the east of the island and there was no major damage and no injuries. There were plenty of fallen trees, and few close calls, but by and large, the community got through unscathed. The media interest in Lord Howe disappeared as quickly as it came, and we were left to look after ourselves and our guests as we always do. We may be 2 hours from Sydney on a Qantas Dash 8, but without the plane, we’re a remote little sub-tropical island in the middle of a big ocean. Let’s remind the weather gods of the ‘sub’ in front of the word ‘tropical’, and politely request that they keep tropical cyclones where they belong – in the tropics with the crocodiles and box jelly fish.

And if you’re looking for a (mostly) reliable long term weather model, then google WXMAPS and select Medium Range Forecasts. Those clever American meteorologists predicted Cyclone Sandra to hit Lord Howe Island about 6 days before last night, and at least 4 days before the other models. It’s just a pity they don’t predict our future lives in any other respect.

 

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