FHTA, 2 December 2020 – “If you want to see the sunshine”, the Frank Lane quote goes, “you have to weather the storm”. With that criteria unequivocally ticked off; that may explain why we are indeed blessed with many hours of glorious sunshine for so many days of the year.
That sunshine has been a natural blessing for Fiji and a magnetic drawcard to visitors from around the world in better times.
Our weather plays a vital role in the tourism industry and visitor hotspots have evolved by default of their beautiful locations around the country that exposes them to hours of liquid gold sunshine, along with the other attractive elements that use up the thousands of wonderful descriptions of Fiji seen and heard around the world.
But to all things light and bright there is always a dark and scary side and the weather certainly has its downsides.
The predominant South-East trade winds usually bring cold air and precipitation from the south, which precipitates before or around the mountain ranges in the centre of Viti Levu and therefore rarely reaches many of the sunnier tourism hotspots.
Weather experts tell us that Fiji’s climate varies considerably from year to year due to the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which is a natural climate pattern that occurs across the tropical Pacific Ocean that affects weather around the world.
There are two extreme phases of the ENSO: El Niño and La Niña.
El Niño events tend to bring dry seasons that are drier and cooler than normal, while La Niña events usually bring wetter than normal conditions. Suva residents know only too well how weeks of rain without respite can make an entire city long for just a few hours of sunshine during these times.
Currently, for the whole Fiji group, the ENSO is in a moderate La-Niña state so we can expect more precipitation going into the festive period. While this information might appear irrelevant to many except for wedding planners and lovo makers, tourism operators usually take note of these factors when planning for special events during the holiday season, while mariners and ship’s captains know it is time to be even more alert than usual.
The La-Niña event is expected to continue through to the March-May 2021 season.
Last year, Fiji continued to record above-average annual temperatures (25.9°C), which is 0.6°C higher than the long-term average.
The periods of January to March and November to December were the warmest months in 2019, which is our region’s cyclone season. To add to that, this past decade (2010-2019) has been the warmest ever on record.
Warmer temperatures along with warmer oceans that have absorbed most of the excess heat from greenhouse gas emissions affect marine species and ecosystems. Rising temperatures also cause coral bleaching and the loss of breeding grounds for all manner of critical marine life.
Those are just about the worst conditions we could expect when considering the long term sustainability of our very diverse marine life and oceans. These in turn sustain many coastal communities and livelihoods, directly impact the fishing, marine, agriculture and tourism industries and affect the delicate balance between the many thriving ecosystems that interact throughout nature.
Much of this we may take for granted growing up and living in Fiji, but we must realise that our future generations may not experience any of this if we do not do more to protect and save it.
The Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (FHTA) has been working with the Fiji Meteorological Service (FMS) and receives their many weather updates and reports which are disseminated to the Association’s members.
These reports include the Ocean and Climate Outlooks, Coral Bleaching Watch, Seasonal Climate Outlook and Sea Surface Temperature and Levels.
At the recent, 2020 Fiji Climate Outlook Forum hosted by FMS through the Disaster Resilience for Pacific Small Island Developing States (RESPAC) program, indications were that climate change continues to adversely affect the planet and that these are extremely worrying times for those meteorological scientists in the country and we expect, around the region and indeed the world, who understand the signs and collectively worry on our behalf.
The major weather-related occurrences that usually cause widespread public strife and undue economic stress here are floods, droughts and cyclones. While we have a special place for pandemics that sneak up on us and hang around for far too long, there is no denying that the longer-term implications of our steadily deteriorating weather patterns and their increasing devastation cannot be ignored any longer and should really be everybody’s collective concern now.
So, what to do?
Basically, being aware, heeding the advice and doing what we can to reduce the activities that are responsible for aggravating or causing these adverse circumstances would help tremendously. Specifically changing our habits and behaviours as communities is becoming the most critical call to action.
For now, we are expecting more rain over the next few months, and for low lying areas in the country, the chances of river flooding is higher now during La Niña events.
We will be relying on FMS using its Flash Flood Guidance System for advice to better prepare ourselves for any emergencies.
On the opposite end of the spectrum and with our last drought recorded in 2010, there are also plans by the National Disaster Management Office for implementing a Drought Early Warning System for the country. This is good news for those of us who have experienced the effects of extended drier periods and have had to cart water out to island resorts and communities over great distances.
The tropical cyclone outlook forecast from FMS as we head into the cyclone season is that while the yearly average of tropical disturbances evolving into cyclones is reducing, the likelihood of increased severity is higher. Definitely not the news we want to hear when so many businesses are already closed or teetering on the brink of closure.
This month, we are expecting more rain over the country as the forecast is for above-normal precipitation that is likely to continue until February.
The increased sighting of black ants activity in buildings around the country certainly supports this scientific prediction.
So, while we prepare for a quieter than usual holiday season because many of our people are unemployed or on reduced wages, we can use the time to prepare better for bad weather hovering on the horizon. Especially now while the sun is still shining.
By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 3 December 2020)