Cyclone Zoe

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For the 1974 cyclone see Cyclone Zoe (1974)
Severe Tropical Cyclone Zoe
Category 5 severe tropical cyclone (Aus scale)
Category 5 (Saffir–Simpson scale)
Cyclone Zoe 27 dec 2002 2255Z.jpg
Cyclone Zoe near its peak intensity
Formed December 23, 2002 (2002-12-23)
Dissipated January 1, 2003 (2003-02)
Highest winds 10-minute sustained: 240 km/h (150 mph)
1-minute sustained: 285 km/h (180 mph)
Gusts: 350 km/h (220 mph)
Lowest pressure 890 mbar (hPa); 26.28 inHg
(Record low in the Southern Hemisphere)
Fatalities None recorded
Areas affected Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, Rotuma
Part of the 2002–03 South Pacific cyclone season

Severe Tropical Cyclone Zoe (RSMC Nadi designation: 04F, JTWC designation: 06P) was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere. The second cyclone and first severe tropical cyclone of the 2002–03 South Pacific cyclone season, Zoe developed out of a disturbance within the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) on December 23 east of Tuvalu. Initially the storm moved towards the southwest and steadily strengthened. After entering a highly favorable environment with low wind shear, it rapidly intensified and reached peak winds of 240 km/h (150 mph)[nb 1] and a basin record–low sea-level pressure of 890 mbar (26 inHg). It slowly weakened as it quickly curved towards the southeast in response to an approaching upper–level trough. Deteriorating conditions weakened Zoe further, and caused it to become an extratropical cyclone on January 1. Its subsequent remnants were last noted on January 4 before dissipating.

Cyclone Zoe severely affected areas of Rotuma, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. Heavy rainfall and strong winds were particularly disastrous to the Solomon Islands, especially on the islands of Anuta and Tikopia. There, numerous crops and fruit–bearing trees were destroyed. Beaches were also heavily eroded due to the high waves generated by the cyclone. Although effects were lesser in Vanuatu, the country's northernmost islands experienced heavy flooding and beaches destroyed by high waves. After this usage of the name Zoe, the name was retired.

Meteorological history[edit]

Map plotting the track and intensity of the storm according to the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale

On December 23, 2002, the Fiji Meteorological Service's Regional Specialized Meteorological Center in Nadi, Fiji (RSMC Nadi) started to monitor a weak tropical depression, that had developed within the South Pacific Convergence Zone about 670 km (415 mi) to the east of Funafuti on the island nation of Tuvalu.[1] Over the next couple of days the depression slowly developed further and came under the influence of a ridge of high pressure which steered the system towards the west-southwest.[2] During December 25, convection erupted over the depressions low level circulation centre as the system started to rapidly intensify in favourable conditions including decreasing vertical windshear. Later that day both the Joint Typhoon Warning Center and RSMC Nadi reported that the depression had developed into a tropical cyclone with the latter naming it as Zoe at 2100 UTC, while the system was located about 220 km (135 mi) to the northwest of the Fijian dependency of Rotuma. During the next day Zoe continued its rapid intensification and its westwards movement, with RSMC Nadi reporting at 1800 UTC that the system had become a category 3 severe tropical cyclone as it developed an eye.

During December 27, Zoe continued to intensify before the JTWC reported at 1200 UTC, that the system had peaked with 1-minute windspeeds of 285 km/h (180 mph) and become equivalent to a category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale. Later that day, the mid to high level ridge of high pressure that had been steering Zoe westwards started to break down in response to an upper level trough of low pressure developing over the Tasman sea. As a result, the cyclone started to move towards the southwest and passed between the Solomon Islands of Anuta and Fataka at around 1800 UTC. RSMC Nadi then reported at 0600 UTC on December 28, that Zoe had peaked as a Category 5 Severe Tropical Cyclone with estimated 10-minute maximum sustained windspeeds of 240 km/h (150 mph) and an estimated peak pressure of 890 hPa (26.28 inHg) which made it the most intense tropical cyclone on record within the Southern Hemisphere.

Between December 28 and December 29, Zoe moved very little, executing a small clockwise loop whilst maintaining its general intensity. During that time it passed over several small islands in the Temotu Province of the Solomon Islands. December 29 saw Zoe moving again, this time to the southeast.[3] At this time, it encountered an unfavourable environment of increasing wind shear and colder waters, and began to weaken.[4] During January 1, 2003 RSMC Nadi and the JTWC both reported that the system had degenerated into an extratropical cyclone and issued their final warnings.[1] The remnants were then last noted by RSMC Nadi on January 4, while they were located about 415 km (260 mi) to the southeast of Noumea, New Caledonia.[5]

Preparations and impact[edit]

Early on December 26, both RSMC Nadi and TCWC Brisbane started to issue warnings to support the meteorological services of Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands in tracking the cyclone. TCWC Brisbane cancelled their advisories for the Solomon Islands, late on December 29 while RSMC Nadi continued to issue advisories for Vanuatu until early the next day. Due to a number of problems with the Solomon Islands Weather Service, such as the rent not being paid on the offices they were working out of and the supply of electricity being unreliable, TCWC Brisbane sent the first advisory directly to the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC), so they could broadcast them through its network. These were broadcast in English only. After confirmation that the warnings were being received by the SIBC, TCWC Brisbane started to pass warnings to them every 3 hours. The next day Radio Australia was contacted so that arrangements could be made for them to receive and broadcast the warnings. Initial concerns that warning messages had not gotten through arose because there was no two-way radio communication with people on either Tikopia or Anuta, thus authorities had no way of knowing what information people had received and no other way of informing them. However, when communications were restored after the cyclone threat had passed it was discovered that some of the warnings had been received when a shortwave reception was available at various times, until late on December 27 when communications were cut. Those people who could not understand the warnings, were advised by runners who went from hut to hut and to churches to advise people about the oncoming storm, People started preparing straight away cutting Palm fronds and banana trunks in an attempt to support and strengthen roofs and walls. Celebrations to celebrate the new year were cancelled, or moved into communal huts with people sheltering indoors. There were no attempts to evacuate until Zoe had become so intense that dwellings were threatened with imminent inundation or had begun to break up.

Although Zoe never met large land masses, it did affect several inhabited islands which had a total population of around 1700.

The most severe damage wrought by Zoe took place on Tikopia which was completely decimated. Across Tikopia, no home was left standing after 12 m (39 ft) waves along with 320 km/h (200 mph) winds battered the small island. According to press reports, the island was faced with total devastation and all that remained was "just sand and debris."[6] Five days after the storm struck, there were fears of substantial loss of life as no contact had been made with the hardest hit islands. A photographer who took images of the devastation from the air, stated that it would be a miracle if there was not a large loss of life.[7]

On Anuta 90% of houses remained intact, and 70% of crops undamaged. Communication was lost with the island for a week. Vanuatu was inundated with seawater with villagers collecting fish from their village greens. No damage was reported on Fiji with a maximum sustained wind of 33 kn (61 km/h) at Yasawa, and a gust of 40 kn (74 km/h) at Nadi.


Within days of Zoe's passage, the government of the Solomon Islands declared the affected islands disaster zones. Relief supplies were sent from Honiara by January 5 and international aid followed shortly thereafter. Requests for assistance from New Zealand, Australia and France were made by the Solomon Islands.[6] For nearly a week, residents on Tikopia survived without aid by drinking coconut milk and eating what remained of their food stocks. The first relief vessel finally arrived in the island on January 6, bringing medical supplies and food. Although the island's residents had no warning prior to Zoe's arrival, it was found that they took notice of natural warning signs and sought shelter in caves, resulting in no loss of life.[8] Additional supplies were shipped to Anuta on January 6 by a local ship.[8]

Supplies were delayed for days by Solomon Island police as they requested further pay before shipping supplies to the islands. Against the millions of dollars pledged by Australia, only $270,000 had been provided by January 4.[9]


  1. ^ All wind speeds in the article are maximum sustained winds sustained for 10 minutes, unless otherwise noted.


  1. ^ a b RSMC Nadi — Tropical Cyclone Centre (August 29, 2007). Tropical Cyclone Seasonal Summary 2002-2003 season (Report). Fiji Meteorological Service. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 27, 2012. Retrieved October 13, 2012. 
  2. ^ Courtney, Joe B (June 2, 2005). "The South Pacific and southeast Indian Ocean tropical cyclone season 2002–03". Australian Meteorology Magazine (Australian Bureau of Meteorology) 54: 137 – 150. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 13, 2012. Retrieved October 13, 2012. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ RSMC Nadi – Tropical Cyclone Centre, TCWC Brisbane, TCWC Wellington (May 22, 2009). "TCWC Wellington Best Track Data 1967–2006". Fiji Meteorological Service, Meteorological Service of New Zealand Limited, Australian Bureau of Meteorology. International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardship. 
  6. ^ a b Paul Champman (January 5, 2003). "How Zoe laid waste the island Garden of Eden". The Sun Herald. 
  7. ^ Darren Gary (January 2, 2003). "Fears for 1300 islanders as 350 kmh winds hit Solomons". The Age. 
  8. ^ a b "Help arrives at last for ruined isle". Sydney Morning Herald. January 6, 2003. 
  9. ^ Tom Allard (January 4, 2003). "Second ship heads for cyclone-hit islands". Sydney Morning Herald. 

See also[edit]

External links[edit]