Tropical Cyclone Atu heads across the Pacific Ocean [NASA]

The Pacific islands of Vanuatu are currently being pummelled by a severe tropical cyclone.

Tropical cyclone Atu is the equivalent of a category three hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, with sustained winds of up to 185kph and gusts of over 200kph.

The storm is expected to strengthen further, perhaps becoming the equivalent of a category four - the second strongest on the scale.

Fortunately, the centre of the storm - where the worst of the winds are - is expected to stay offshore, but it’s very close to Vanuatu, an island nation about 1,750km northeast of Australia.

Though the tiny islands may not be directly under the eye of the storm, they are still taking quite a battering. The Vanuatu Meteorological Service is warning of the potential of winds gusting at speeds exceeding 200kph.

Atu is moving very slowly, at less than 10kph - and this is bad news, as it will take longer for the storm to clear the chain of 82 islands, and their 220,000 residents will have to endure the flooding and strong winds for longer than is the case for most tropical storms.

And it’s not only the Vanuatu islands that are affected. The nearby island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji and the Solomon Islands are also seeing strong winds and heavy rain.

In the 24 hours up to 6:00 GMT on Monday, the city of Santa Cruz on the Solomon Islands recorded a staggering 133mm rain - more than a third normally expected for the entire month of February, which falls in the middle of the rainy season. 

Flooding is a real danger on these Pacific islands, but as the majority are volcanic, their mountainous nature also leaves them vulnerable to mudslides and landslides.

The path of the storm should eventually take it away to the southeast, so it should avoid making direct landfall before dissipating over the cooler waters of the south pacific later in the week.

Source: Al Jazeera