The predictions come following a forecast from the United Nations' weather body, the World Meteorological Organisation, that the La Nina weather pattern is set to intensify in the coming months.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Philip Duncan, Head Weather Analyst with weatherwatch.co.nz
DUNCAN: At this stage we have a moderate La Nina and it's still building, and at the moment what the scientists are saying, the scientists within Australia and New Zealand and America are saying, that it's growing and will strengthen, and probably be one of our strongest La Ninas since 1988. Now what that means as the warm water in the Pacific is now lying further to the west, it's lying around the Coral Sea area. So this means that there's an increased threat of tropical cyclones for those countries that are west of the international date line, so that includes Australia, New Caledonia, Fiji and possibly even the upper part of New Zealand as well.
COUTTS: Now are you going to predict the numbers of cyclones that could happen this season?
DUNCAN: I'll give you a number but it's kind of, I always think it's guessing and I know in America this year they predicted that the Atlantic hurricane season was going to be as big as the 2005 one that spawned Hurricane Katrina, Rita and Wilma; three of the biggest hurricanes on record. And yet it's been pretty much a fizzer - most of the storms have happened out in the middle of the Atlantic where no one lives. So I think that we'll probably see something like 15 main storms this year, 10 to 15 main storms. But whether they form anywhere near land is a whole other question. But of course the Western Pacific has a lot more islands, a lot more higher population in this part of the world. So there is an increased threat, and again Queensland, which has been hammered by storm after storm, they seem to have gone from drought a couple of years ago to floods. And this is going to be a serious threat for them of course. Earlier this year they were hit by that large cyclone, and again there'll be an increased threat this year for that as well.
COUTTS: Well what can some of the parts of the Pacific look forward to? We know that Fiji is in a severe drought at the moment, the worst drought they've seen in a while. What does it mean for them for instance?
DUNCAN: Yeah well that's good that you mentioned that because over in Fiji they're not allowed to talk about it. The government told the meteorological organisation there to stop talking about it because it's bad press for Fiji. They are probably at an increased risk of rain, because they're going to see more tropical development around them. When the waters get warm, the waters are the fuel for our storms, the warmer the sea air the bigger the storms are. So we're looking at warm waters around Fiji to Australia. So they're probably at an increased risk of tropical cyclones and certainly increased risk of thunderstorms and all the usual sort of tropical weather. Of course they're going now into their wet season, which is sort of later this year and into the early part of next year, and I think that they will probably see an end to those droughts, hopefully not a spectacular end of them as we've seen in other parts of the world when they've gone from droughts to floods.
COUTTS: Now Samoa, Tonga and American Samoa of course we know a year ago were hit by earthquakes and tsunamis. We're hoping that they'll have a quiet cyclone season, but is that in fact going to happen?
DUNCAN: Well it is possible, I mean they are closer to the international date line, and more of the storms will be focussed over the Australian side, towards the Coral Sea. I think increased risk places will be like New Caledonia, Norfolk Island, the Queensland coast right up into northern Australia. Those will be the areas I think most at risk, but of course they're always at a risk every year, whether it's La Nina or El Nino or a neutral year, that part of the world, this part of the world is always at a risk. So hopefully they won't be seeing a repeat of what we've seen in the last couple of years, but even because of La Nina it doesn't mean that cyclones are going to happen east of the dateline. And certainly with New Zealand as an example, we had La Nina here a couple of years ago, which usually means a wetter summer for the New Zealanders, but we ended up getting droughts from the top of the country to the bottom of the country. So I guess when you're talking about a little tiny island anything can happen, but there is certainly a heightened risk with the warmer waters.