Waiting for Cyclone Wilma

For the last three days we’ve been hearing about a severe tropical storm forming to our west. On Thursday, people started talking about stocking up on water, trading tips for dealing with frozen food when the power goes out, and wondering whether schools and businesses would be closed.

The first forecasts had the storm hitting American Samoa on Friday afternoon. Its arrival was pushed back to late Friday night, then Saturday afternoon, then early Sunday morning. As I type this at 11pm Saturday night, the current prediction is sometime between late Sunday night and mid-morning on Monday. Apparently it was headed straight at us for a while before taking a detour to the north, but has now turned our way again while slowing to an excruciating 6 mph. It’s been a little rainier and windier than normal the past few days, with a few strong gusts that made us think the storm was getting close, but it always calmed down quickly and we’ve had a few periods of bright sunshine. Current conditions: light breeze with occasional strong gusts and a few fluffy clouds in an otherwise starry sky.

Having never experienced a tropical storm, Mary and I aren’t really sure what to expect. The few online weather sites that cover our part of the world offer conflicting information and impossible-to-decipher meteorological jargon. They can’t even agree on what to call it. It’s named Wilma, and either a Tropical Cyclone (1) or a Category 1 Hurricane. For some reason, some sites were calling it a Typhoon until it crossed the International Date Line, when it became a Cyclone. Here is the most concise explanation I can find of the different names for this kind of storm, from the NOAA website:

  • “hurricane” (the North Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Pacific Ocean east of the dateline, or the South Pacific Ocean east of 160E)
  • “typhoon” (the Northwest Pacific Ocean west of the dateline)
  • “severe tropical cyclone” (the Southwest Pacific Ocean west of 160E or Southeast Indian Ocean east of 90E)
  • “severe cyclonic storm” (the North Indian Ocean)
  • “tropical cyclone” (the Southwest Indian Ocean)

I have the utmost respect for meteorologists- the work they do is difficult, important, and constantly criticized. But the fact that they have five different names for the same phenomenon is, to be frank, stupid.

This looks pretty ominous (our island is inside the little black circle)…

…but all the satellite images have looked like that since yesterday morning. The nasty-looking red stuff to the southeast passed over us without serious incident.

The worst part right now is the uncertainty. When is it going to get here? Are our preparations tragically inadequate or paranoid overkill? The infrastructure here is already held together with duct tape and prayers- even if the storm isn’t life-threatening, how long will it take to restore electrical service if it goes out? The expected severity of the storm (50 mph winds with gusts to 75) wouldn’t even cause most Midwesterners to head down to the basement. So why are the neighbors boarding up their windows?

I’ll try to post some more updates tomorrow unless the internet and/or electricity goes down. In the meantime, you can track the storm on
Weather Underground

I read through this again after posting it and realized I need to clarify something: this storm isn’t going to be a catastrophic natural disaster. I haven’t seen predicted wind speeds any higher than 80 mph and our neighborhood isn’t in a flood zone. We may have a mess to clean up afterward, but we’re going to be fine. Don’t worry, Mom.


One response to “Waiting for Cyclone Wilma

  1. I will still worry It is my duty as a mother.

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