It's closely located to the French territory of Futuna, but is expected to turn and head back towards Fiji in the next couple of days.
The depression is expected to return toward Fiji over the weekend and there is a likelihood it will develop into a cyclone.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Neville Koop, meteorology and climate adviser, SPREP, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme
KOOP: This morning the centre of the depression is actually very close to the island of Futuna, in the Wallis-Futuna group, which puts it about, about 350-kilometres to the northeast of Vanua Leva in Fiji.
COUTTS: And what would be Futuna experiencing now because of it?
KOOP: Yeah, Futuna would be experiencing some heavy rain and gusty, squally winds. The system has not yet reached Tropical Cyclone status, which means by definition, the winds are not expected to have reached gale force yet, but they would be certainly gusting up around the 50 to 55 kilometres an hour mark I'd expect.
COUTTS: And which way is it tracking?
KOOP: It's been moving steadily eastwards over the last 24 to 48 hours and that movement is expected to continue at least for another 48 hours, but it will slow down later on Friday. And as it does so, it'll be very close to Samoa, perhaps 100 kilometres, 200 kilometres to the west of Samoa at that point and then it's going to sort of reverse on itself and track back towards the west and southwest passing north of the northern islands of Tonga and approaching Fiji through the Lau
group, probably later Saturday.
COUTTS: And is it when it slows that it actually gathers intensity?
KOOP: No, normally intensification process is related to processes in the middle and upper levels of the atmosphere and also the sea temperatures, the movement of the cyclone is independent of the actual cyclone itself. Cyclones get steered by the broader environment around them and what's going to happen, is it's going to bump into a very strong high pressure that sits almost semi-permanently really over the northern Cooks and northern parts of French Polynesia. And as it bumps into that high pressure, it's going to get pushed back towards us. But ultimately all tropical cyclones are trying to move polewards, that's what they're there for to transport heat out of the tropics into the polar region. So it would start to track south later in the weekend and that's when it poses the most danger I think to people in the Pacific.
COUTTS: And is it likely to be upgraded to a Tropical Cyclone?
KOOP: I think, my personal feeling is that it would be likely to reach Tropical Cyclone Status later today sometime. The responsibility for naming the cyclones in our area rests with the Fiji Met Service and I'm sure that they will sign it a name when the time is right, but my best estimation right now is that will occur probably sometime later today if it follows the intensification that we have seen in recent days.
COUTTS: And because of the troughs that you've described, the depressions. It's likely to stay in the Pacific for sometime yet?
KOOP: Look at this stage, the forecast models which are really the best indication we have for the longer term outlook of these weather systems suggests that it may hang around into the middle of next week. As it passes Fiji, over the weekend and on Monday, it's going to then bump into a strong high pressure down near New Zealand, which may, initially at least, inhibits its southward movement and it may hang about to the south of Fiji, but that's a long way off and really at this stage we're looking more at what's going to happen in the next 72 hours or so, because that's when people are going to be becoming most at risk.
COUTTS: Now, we've spoken to a number of people in Samoa the past couple of days and they say they're having strange weather patterns for a monsoon season that is, that it sort of buckets down for a minutes and then it's nothing and then it's a couple of drops. So you talked to us once before about a neutral weather pattern in existence in the Pacific. Would that explain it?
KOOP: Yes, that's right. The weather they've been experiencing, in my time in Samoa recently, I spent most of November in Samoa. We were getting quite frequent afternoon thunderstorms, which is a common thing in the tropics during the build up part of the wet season as we move from the dry, the cool season to the warm wet season. Humidity gradually builds in the lower part of the atmosphere and what you see first are these afternoon thunderstorms develop, especially around the islands where the daytime heating heats up the land. But with this cyclone moving towards them now, they've moved into a more monsoonal-type of situation where they have expanses of cloud covering them and quite heavy rain.
I was talking to a colleague of mine who works in a bank there this morning, He was noting that it was quite gloomy there today and they'll be getting freshening northerly winds and periods of rain.
Fortunately, for them, at least, for now anyway, it looks like the centre of the cyclone won't actually move directly over Samoa. Indications are it will actually slow down and then back track before it gets to the islands of Samoa, but we'll be watching that, of course, and the risk is still there. It could get a little closer, so Samoa is the first probably three countries that are going to perhaps feel the strong impacts of this system over coming days.