Monthly Archives: January 2011

Back to Normal

We went almost a week without seeing any blue sky. When the clouds parted for a few minutes yesterday I was so excited I took a picture.

Since this morning it’s been mostly sunny and extremely hot except for twenty minutes of intense rain- pretty much the weather we get every day when there are no cyclones or monsoonal troughs around. The forecast calls for more of the same, and the nasty-looking red stuff on the radar map is all moving away from us.

I finally went back to work today. I had the combined 5th/6th grade class for PE and they played flag football (team names chosen by the kids: Bengals vs. Taco Bell). It felt good to be back at work, and I was happy that the kids I talked to during recess weren’t too upset by the storm. Most of them thought it was fun!

Since our fallen papaya tree’s roots were mostly intact, I thought we might be able to save it. Nate and Joe came over to help stand it back up.

Then I tied ropes to two coconut trees and the corner of the patio.

It’s either going to stand there forever or be knocked down by the next stiff breeze. Tomorrow I’ll go pick up a couple of bags of compost to cover the bare roots and give it a little help.

The post-cyclone cleanup is moving along, and for most people in American Samoa things were fairly normal today. Obviously, those whose homes or businesses were severely damaged have experienced a traumatic event. But no one was killed or even seriously injured (except the guy who fell off his roof; I don’t know the details but if you’re on your roof during a hurricane you’re kind of asking for it). The level of destruction was much lower than in previous storms the territory has seen, not to mention the tsunami that hit in September 2009. Everyone I talk to about Cyclone Wilma has the same response: “It could have been a lot worse.” has some pictures taken during and after the storm, as well as this article describing cleanup efforts and the process of assessing the damage.

One more thing that will probably go back to normal soon: the number of people reading this blog. As of Saturday, I had a total of 1,799 views since I started my blog in August. I’ve had 1,083 views since Sunday. A typical day, pre-Wilma, brought fewer than thirty visitors; I had 415 on Monday. Writing for a larger audience has been fun, but I’m ready to go back to my once-a-week posts about hanging out on the beach, and there doesn’t seem to be as much demand for that as there is for on-the-scene hurricane coverage.


Cyclone Wilma and the Monsoonal Trough

Cyclone Wilma has passed the southern islands of Fiji without causing much trouble and is now over open ocean. It’s expected to weaken to a tropical storm before making landfall again on the North Island of New Zealand.

Tonga is dealing with more property damage than American Samoa, but fortunately there have been no deaths or serious injuries.

Here are a few news stories from around the South Pacific:

Tropical Cyclone Wilma passes, no major damage to American Samoa

Monsoonal trough extends hazardous conditions over the islands

Heavy weather continues in the territory

Major destruction on Tonga’s Ha’apai from Cyclone Wilma

Tonga begins clean-up after Wilma hits

Yesterday’s monsoonal trough storm caused nearly as much damage as Wilma did. It’s expected to hang around for a few more days, causing intermittent heavy rain and high wind, but probably nothing as severe as we got yesterday. The only damage I’ve seen in our neighborhood is a few small trees blown down (including our papaya) and branches and trash scattered around.

I opened the local paper this morning hoping to get some more news on the damage to other parts of the island, but their reporting was frustratingly vague: “some” homes and business damaged, “several” mudslides, etc. Clean up has begun in earnest and power has been restored almost everywhere in the territory.

School is closed for another day. The weather is fine- a little light rain and breeze- but Ashley said the streets around Pacific Horizons are impassable. I’m not surprised. If we get anything more than a light sprinkle, I drive through axle-deep water on my way to work.

I’m not looking forward to another boring day at home. I’ve hardly left the house since I got home from work on Friday and cabin fever is setting in. As tempting as it is to go for a drive and see the storm’s effects up close, I think I’ll wait until things have calmed down a little more. I do have one trip planned: depositing my check at the bank and paying the bill for our internet service. Should be pretty exciting!

Cyclone Wilma Moves to Tonga, Still Stormy Here

The most recent satellite image shows, uh, continuing brown with a chance of yellow and red.

The wind has died down over the last few hours. We’re still getting occasional strong gusts and heavy rain. If I had to make a prediction (which I’m completely unqualified to do, but that’s never stopped me before) I’d say we’ve got at least two more days of steady wind and rain, but in gradually smaller doses. The rest of the weather we get from this system will probably be more annoying than dangerous. is reporting that the island has suffered more damage from today’s rough weather, mostly to roads and house roofs. None of it seems terribly serious and I still haven’t seen any reports of deaths or serious injuries.

As you can see from the image above, Wilma is still going strong. She’s right over Tonga now and has become a Category 2 Cyclone, with a good chance of being upgraded to Category 3. The most recent reports I’ve read described the northern islands of Tonga being hit with 75 mph sustained winds and gusts over 100 mph. Our thoughts are with the Tongan people as they bear the brunt of a storm that obviously could have been a lot worse for us. I read some news stories claiming that Tonga is well-prepared for this storm and expects to get through it without much damage. I hope they’re right.

Tonga and Samoa share a lot of cultural and linguistic similarities. There are several hundred Tongans living in American Samoa, although I haven’t personally gotten to know any of them. I do know that Tongan kava (or ‘ava in Samoan) is pretty popular here and if the cyclone disrupts kava production there will be quite a few sad Samoans.

Storm Update, and A Cyclone of Blog Visitors

The purpose of this blog has always been to simply keep family and friends back home up to date on our adventure here. Normally that means lots of pictures of tropical beaches and stories about snorkeling, hiking, and our battle against termites. Yesterday I started posting updates about Cyclone Wilma with those same few folks in mind, but ended up writing for a much larger audience than ever before.

American Samoa is a tiny place, but there are people all over the world who share a connection to it. Whether they’re from here, have family or friends here, or have lived here in the past, there are at least as many people who care about American Samoa while living elsewhere as there are residents of the territory. It turns out I was one of the few people posting live updates of the cyclone while it was happening. Hundreds of people I’ve never met were reading my blog to keep up with what Wilma was doing to our island. I had more visitors yesterday than I had over the previous month combined, and I’m really glad I was able to report that there have been no deaths or serious injuries despite a fair bit of property damage.

As if that weren’t enough, Michael Perry (in my opinion the best Wisconsin author since Aldo Leopold) linked to my blog this morning. I had emailed him a couple of months ago just to say that I really liked his books and that I thought he might get a kick out of my story about the truck we bought here. He sent me a very nice response, then yesterday emailed me again to let me know he’d be posting a link to “The Story of a Truck” on his blog.

If you’re not familiar with Michael Perry’s work, check out his blog at, read his books, and go see him if he comes to give a talk at your local library or bookstore.

Suddenly becoming an on-the-scene reporter and having so many strangers read my writing has been a little intimidating and very humbling. It feels good, though, to know that I was able to reassure worried friends and relatives of people I’ve never met that the storm wasn’t a life-threatening event and their loved ones were more than likely OK, despite being a little damp and wind-blown.

Here’s the latest view from space:

As the official Cyclone Wilma approaches the islands of Tonga, its tail of monsoonal trough (if I were to start a band here I’d pretty much have to call it Monsoonal Trough) appears intent on hanging around the Samoan Islands for a while. The difference between a cyclone and a monsoonal trough may be important to a meteorologist, but for those of us here on the ground the two are pretty much identical. We’re facing at least another day of torrential rain and wind gusts over 70 mph. I’ll try to continue posting updates of storm damage around the island as well as our general predicament.

The good news is that schools have been closed, so I don’t have to go to work today. Unfortunately the High Court is still in session so Mary isn’t so lucky.

Here’s a video of what Cyclone Wilma looked like from our front door:


Today looks pretty much the same.

We’ve Lost Our Papaya Tree

It survived Cyclone Wilma, but not the subsequent monsoonal trough. This is incredibly disappointing.

Still waiting to see if I’m going to work today…

Cyclone Wilma: Not Finished With Us Yet

We woke up at ten minutes to five this morning to the sound of the window louvers rattling in their frames. The wind was blowing steadily at a good 40 mph or more, with some pretty wild gusts. The rain was coming down harder than it had at anytime since we arrived in American Samoa.

I went online to find out what I could. Here is the official National Weather Service forecast for American Samoa, as of 4:53am local time:

Rest Of Tonight…Mostly cloudy with scattered showers. Lows in the mid 70s. Northwest winds 15 to 20 mph.

Monday And Monday Night…Mostly cloudy with scattered showers. highs in the mid 80s. Lows in the upper 70s. Northwest winds 15 to 20 mph.

At the same time, they issued a wind advisory warning of”winds of 25 to 35 miles per hour with locally higher gusts.”

Now, I understand that until very recently people facing a storm in this part of the world had very little information about it other than what they could see by looking up. The miracle of sitting at a computer, during a hurricane, and flipping between several weather sites while also watching a football game from 4,000 miles away isn’t lost on me. But really, National Weather Service, this is the best you can do? It was like that all day yesterday, too. The forecast page never even had the words “hurricane” or “cyclone” on it.

At least they pass along these animated satellite maps. Here’s the most recent image:

This site
shows the images as animations so I can make my meteorological analysis: red stuff moving toward us is bad, red stuff not moving toward us is good.

Long story short, we’re in a “monsoonal trough” (sounds like an old-timey disease, maybe something one of the Bronte sisters suffered from). I was led to believe that the trough would involve standard non-cyclone-strength wind and rain, but for the last hour or so it’s been pretty hard to tell the difference.

Cyclone Wilma: 4:30pm

The official “All Clear” hasn’t been issued yet, but it’s pretty clear the worst is behind us. The sky is getting a little lighter, the rain has mostly abated, and although we still have some strong gusts the wind has quieted considerably since this morning.

This image shows Wilma safely to the south of American Samoa:

The satellite images show some more wind and rain headed our way, but those systems to our north and northwest aren’t rotating. That means lower wind speeds and less danger.

Some damage reports are trickling in: several houses in Aua have lost their roofs, the village of Faleasao in the Manu’a Islands was evacuated, and there have been mudslides and downed power lines all over the territory. You can read a news story about Cyclone Wilma from Radio New Zealand International here.

We’ve been very fortunate that, as hurricanes go, this one was pretty mild. I haven’t heard any reports of deaths or serious injuries. It’s headed towards the Kingdom of Tonga now and gaining energy along the way, so our best wishes are with the Tongan people as they prepare to face a bigger, stronger Wilma.

I’ll try to post some pictures and video later this evening or tomorrow. Right now I’m going to try to get some rest.