After causing widespread destruction across the islands of the South Pacific, Tropical Cyclone Pam still has enough energy to threaten New Zealand with severe weather conditions.
Pam is probably the strongest cyclone to hit the region since Cyclone Zoe struck over Christmas 200.
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Sustained winds of 265kph hit Vanuatu and other islands of Melanesia, and gusts are likely to have been in excess of 300kph.
This was a Category 5 storm on the tropical cyclone intensity scale. This differs from the Saffir-Simpson scale used to measure Atlantic hurricane intensity, but for a time, Pam was a 5 on both scales, causing “widespread destruction”.
Reports suggest that most buildings in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila have been damaged or destroyed and it could be several days before the true extent of damage and fatalities is known, as Vanuatu’s population of 267,000 is spread over 65 islands.
Even as Pam approaches New Zealand, it remains a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 150kph, moving rapidly southwards at more than 50kph.
New Zealand’s national weather service has issued a high sea warning as Pam is expected to bring an unusually large swell as well as very large waves as it moves into the eastern Bay of Plenty.
A swell of four to six metres is expected near the coast with as much as six to eight metres offshore.
Pam’s final interaction with any landmass will be over the Chatham Islands, where big seas, torrential rain and severe gales are expected as Pam passes just to the east of the tiny archipelago.