Private weather providers interfere with cyclone names

'Ofa Fa'anunu, of the Tonga Met office; Chantelle Boland, assigned to work in the Australian High Commission in Tonga for a year to manage TC Gita response and recovery activities; and Samiuela Pohiva of the Ministry of Internal Affairs' local government division at the Australian High Commission in Tonga May 7. Picture: Australia in Tonga

CYCLONE names are predetermined at a meeting of Pacific Meteorologists which takes place every two years.

The meteorologists who comprise the tropical cyclone committee creates two lists, one of confirmed names and another which are on standby in case names have to be retired.

According to Tonga Meteorology Director Ofa Fa’anunu, the former head of the Pacific Meteorological Council, the process of naming cyclones was interrupted recently during TC Josie (March 29-April2) and TC Keni (April 5-11).

In the South West Pacific, one of the world’s six weather regions, the only authority to name a cyclone is the Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre (RSMC) in Nadi.

But according to Mr Fa’anunu, private weather providers including an American based one had named cyclones well before the weather condition had satisfied the criteria of a cyclone.

The Tongan met head said early naming created unnecessary panic and in some cases ordinary individuals preparation could become very costly.

Mr Fa’anunu was speaking to participants of the Pacific Environment Journalism Network (PEJN) at a conference earlier this week ahead of the Pacific Media Summit which ended in  Nuku’alofa Tonga yesterday.

“Even though these names are published, the media shouldn’t use it or refer to it until it’s been named by the RSMC,” Mr Fa’anunu said.

“Nowadays some of the social media (outlets) working with private meteorologists get hold of the list and publish the names 10 days before the cyclone happens.”

“It’s caused a lot of problems in this cyclone season, we had to go to the standby list two times to change the names.”

He said the tropical cyclone committee would discuss the issue at its next meeting in June.

Also the acting CEO of the Tongan ministry responsible for media, energy, disaster management and information, Mr Fa’anunu said it was important that the mainstream media work closely with the weather service and disaster management officials to the benefit of effective early warning.