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.

Cyclone Wilma: 12:00pm

This image shows that Wilma has nearly passed:

Since the eye passed we’ve had some wind and rain but nothing like the first half of the cyclone. There are some serious-looking black clouds hanging over the mountains, though. Hopefully the north side of the island isn’t getting hit too hard.

The satellite images have been showing lots of red to our north and northwest. I’m sure we’ll get some of that, but I think now that the actual spinning cyclone is past us the worst is over.

Cyclone Wilma: 10:30am

We’re safe and sound at Kelly and Nate’s house watching Aaron Rodgers pick apart the Bears’ defense.

The National Weather Serviced confirmed that the lull we experienced earlier was the “eye” of the storm. The second half of the system looks to be a little stronger but not as long-lasting as the storm picks up speed:

The wind and rain are picking back up. It’s not over yet, but it’s nice to know we’re getting close to the end.

There are reports of mudslides on the eastern end of the island and power outages in the Leone area on the west side. No damage in our neighborhood except some banana trees falling down. We haven’t heard any reports of deaths or serious injury.