Can Every Cyclone be the ‘Worst Ever’?

Why would large chunks of the media want to recklessly mislead us about Cyclone Winston’s ranking in the pantheon of cyclones?

Worst ever!

It all started when I read the headline ‘worst storm on record’ on news.com.au (at 15:08 on Saturday, 20 February 2016 – before Cyclone Winston had even hit Fiji):

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‘Wow’, I exclaimed to myself, it’s not every day that you come across the WORST STORM ON RECORD.

Wait a minute, something’s fishy

Within seconds of my socks having been knocked off, they quickly found themselves back on my feet as I clicked on the story and saw that Cyclone Winston had immediately become downgraded to a cyclone ‘being described as the strongest on record in the southern hemisphere‘:

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Even though there are about twice as many tropical cyclones in the northern hemisphere, the mantle of strongest ever in the southern hemisphere was still pretty impressive I thought.

It’s getting smellier

Not much later, I found that Cyclone Winston had been further downgraded by the media, with sites like Sky News and The Australian saying it was only the strongest cyclone to hit Fiji. Now why would they want to rain on the Cyclone Winston parade and deny the good folk of Fiji their rightful claim of having endured the WORST STORM ON RECORD… (in the southern hemisphere)?

Vale journalism

When you see words like ‘worst’ following phrases such as ‘being described as’ or ‘thought to be’, you know that journalism has left the building.

The problem is that it wasn’t just news.com.au trotting out this unsubstantiated guff. It was an entire cabal of leftist ‘news’ sites saying almost exactly the same thing – all without a shred of data to justify the claim being made. My personal favourite is this pathetic excuse for journalism trotted out by the Sydney Morning Herald:

Torrential rain, wind gusts of up to 325 km/h and waves up to 12 metres high battered the South Pacific nation on Saturday evening in what is thought to be the strongest severe tropical cyclone to ever hit the Southern Hemisphere.

What the hell is ‘thought to be’ supposed to mean in this context?

And then there’s the ABC – which couldn’t quite bring itself to fully peddle the same agenda driven lie donkey plop. Instead it settled for this vague ‘Brian told me it might be’ type of ‘work’:

The storm, thought to be one of the strongest to ever hit the Southern Hemisphere, has already lashed the outer islands of Fiji after hitting Tonga twice earlier in the week.

Now that the dust has settled, the ‘consensus’ on Cyclone Winston appears to have settled down to the ‘strongest to hit Fiji’ level (which it comfortably was by the way). Although, Kate Schneider of news.com.au is still bashing the ‘strongest storm in the Southern Hemisphere since record-keeping began’ line – even though every other major leftist news site appears to have now ditched it out of sheer embarrassment.

By the way, here’s a note to the writers who carried the ‘strongest ever in the southern hemisphere’ story: I sincerely hope that none of you write ‘journalist’ into the ‘occupation’ section of your tax returns. Please also note that it’s a federal offence to lie to the ATO.

Can we handle it?

And now for that funny little thing called the truth. Well, as far as ranking cyclones goes, it depends on which criteria you feel like using for measuring cyclone strength – air pressure, peak 10 minute sustained wind speed (used in Australia and most of the world), peak 3-minute sustained wind (used in places like India and Bangladesh) or peak 1-minute sustained wind speed (used in the USA).

South Pacific cyclones – air pressure rankings

When it comes to air pressure (the lower the air pressure, the more ‘intense’ the cyclone), Cyclone Winston doesn’t even make the top 10 in the south pacific region, let alone the southern hemisphere:

Cyclone Season Peak 10-min
sustained winds
Pressure
Zoe 2002–03 240 km/h (150 mph) 890 hPa (26.28 inHg)
Pam 2014–15 250 km/h (155 mph) 896 hPa (26.46 inHg)
Ron 1997–98 230 km/h (145 mph) 900 hPa (26.58 inHg)
Susan 1997–98 230 km/h (145 mph) 900 hPa (26.58 inHg)
Percy 2004–05 230 km/h (145 mph) 900 hPa (26.58 inHg)
Hina 1984–85 220 km/h (135 mph) 910 hPa (26.87 inHg)
Erica 2002–03 215 km/h (130 mph) 915 hPa (27.02 inHg)
Heta 2003–04 215 km/h (130 mph) 915 hPa (27.02 inHg)
Meena 2004–05 215 km/h (130 mph) 915 hPa (27.02 inHg)
Olaf 2004–05 230 km/h (145 mph) 915 hPa (27.02 inHg)
Ului 2009–10 215 km/h (130 mph) 915 hPa (27.02 inHg)
Winston 2015–16 230 km/h (145 mph) 915 hPa (27.02 inHg)
Oscar 1982–83 205 km/h (125 mph) 920 hPa (27.17 inHg)
Fran 1991–92 205 km/h (125 mph) 920 hPa (27.17 inHg)
Beni 2002–03 205 km/h (125 mph) 920 hPa (27.17 inHg)
Dovi 2002–03 205 km/h (125 mph) 920 hPa (27.17 inHg)

South pacific cyclones – 10 minute sustained wind rankings

If ranking by peak 10-minute sustained wind speed (the measure used by most international weather agencies), Cyclone Winston comes screaming all the way up to joint 4th in the south pacific region – but still well short of strongest ever in the southern hemisphere:

Cyclone Season Peak 10-min
sustained winds
Pressure
Pam 2014–15 250 km/h (155 mph) 896 hPa (26.46 inHg)
Zoe 2002–03 240 km/h (150 mph) 890 hPa (26.28 inHg)
Ron 1997–98 230 km/h (145 mph) 900 hPa (26.58 inHg)
Susan 1997–98 230 km/h (145 mph) 900 hPa (26.58 inHg)
Percy 2004–05 230 km/h (145 mph) 900 hPa (26.58 inHg)
Olaf 2004–05 230 km/h (145 mph) 915 hPa (27.02 inHg)
Winston 2015–16 230 km/h (145 mph) 915 hPa (27.02 inHg)
Hina 1984–85 220 km/h (135 mph) 910 hPa (26.87 inHg)
Erica 2002–03 215 km/h (130 mph) 915 hPa (27.02 inHg)
Heta 2003–04 215 km/h (130 mph) 915 hPa (27.02 inHg)
Meena 2004–05 215 km/h (130 mph) 915 hPa (27.02 inHg)
Ului 2009–10 215 km/h (130 mph) 915 hPa (27.02 inHg)
Oscar 1982–83 205 km/h (125 mph) 920 hPa (27.17 inHg)
Fran 1991–92 205 km/h (125 mph) 920 hPa (27.17 inHg)
Beni 2002–03 205 km/h (125 mph) 920 hPa (27.17 inHg)
Dovi 2002–03 205 km/h (125 mph) 920 hPa (27.17 inHg)

The Pied Piper revealed

What about 1-minute sustained wind records? Well, this is where things get very interesting.

Finding 1-minute sustained wind speed records for the southern hemisphere is extremely difficult (perhaps impossible for non-climate scientists, I’m not sure) – presumably for the simple reason that southern hemisphere weather agencies don’t use this measure.

The good news is that this hasn’t stopped the good Dr Jeff Masters from providing this positively useless horribly misleading unhelpful table (*):

* NB: this isn’t the first time Dr Masters has cracked out this table (which is missing links in some important places). It also made an appearance following Super Typhoon Haiyan – and mysteriously left out Super Typhoon Joan (1959). Now why would that have happened?

In short, Dr Masters’ table claims to list the world’s strongest ever cyclones – as long as you use only 1-minute sustained wind speeds at the time of landfall (and not include any other time in the cyclone’s life). Got that? Good.

Now, after the facts have been molested in this manner, Cyclone Winston manages to climb all the way up to not only to number one in the southern hemisphere, but also to number two of all time. Holy smokes! Of course, using this criteria also leads to the absurd result of leaving Cyclone Patricia (which only happens to hold the world record for 1-minute sustained wind speed) completely off the list of world’s strongest ever cyclones (because it weakened significantly before making landfall). Hmmm.

Perhaps Dr Masters was the media’s inspiration for the above journalistic atrocities. If so, why wasn’t he referred to as the source? And what stopped the media from going the whole hog and labelling Cyclone Winston as the second strongest cyclone EVER? Is it because Dr Masters has form when it comes to crying wolf and violating facts?

Why stop?

Forget about sustained wind speeds, what about the cyclones with the fastest wind gusts ever? Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a handy list of these anywhere. However, we do know this: Cyclone Winston’s reported peak wind gusts of 325km/h fall well short of the southern hemisphere and world record of 408km/h set by Cyclone Olivia in 1996.

I’ll leave you to rank Cyclone Winston accordingly.

 

 

8 thoughts on “Can Every Cyclone be the ‘Worst Ever’?”

    1. Great link. Shows that measuring wind speed couldn’t have been further from their minds at the time. It may very well have been the worst ever in the southern hemisphere!

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  1. The met bureaus and the MSM everywhere these day only want one claim about these extreme events and that is “WORST EVAH” !!!

    From the BoM web page:

    “In summary, cyclone forecasters use a range of methods to estimate the intensity. In reality it is rare in Australia to verify the true intensity, but in general terms the intensity can be considered accurate to about 20 kilometres per hour. This can be higher for intense cyclones for which the maximum wind is known to fluctuate more.”

    And I suspect that is putting it mildly.

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  2. Hina hit Fiji. There was another Cat 5 in the 70s and anything before 1980 is missing from your list presumably because of lack of data.

    It might only be the strongest to hit Fiji because others were judged on damage.

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    1. Good point Vic. I’ve only been going by what has been recorded to disprove the outlandish claims being made. The fact that the world didn’t start when we started tracking cyclones (very poorly at first) in the 1950s and 1960s is also a very important point.

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    2. Hina came very close to Fiji but actually missed making landfall by about 60 miles – which was a relief. I was there in Nadi at the time – and very worried by it.

      After it was over I was talking to a senior meteorologist at the Nadi Met Off who described turning the doppler weather radar onto the storm, seeing a wind speed of 180 knots, finding the result hard to believe, and repeating the process several times. So I am mystified to see that Hina is now only credited with 135knot winds.

      Is it part of a growing trend towards exaggerating current weather events and dismissing past ones?

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  3. I would say most cyclones before 1970 had no measurement. Even cyclone Tracy (Darwin 1974) was only assessed for winds after the event by calculating the forces to bend signs, and the area of building destruction. Somewhere I read that the worst cyclone to hit Australia was in the late 19th century in the Gulf area (Burketown 1887?). This was assessed from reports of damage and people killed. Cyclones on islands in the Pacific have had no measurements until the satellite era. I recall in late 1960’s visiting a small island off Efate in Vanuatu (then the new Hebrides) where everything including a village and all the trees were demolished a year or so before. Fiji has had lots of cyclones rip through parts of the island group. Read the history books. Cyclone Marcia (which hit Yeppoon and Rockhampton a year ago) was exaggerated. It was never a category 5 – it was a cat 3 when it crossed the coast and was a cat 1 when it got to Rockhampton. Similarly cyclone Larry was exaggerated in intensity (actual cat2-3) but was a record width. BOM can not be trusted with measurements before or after. Satellites can be believed about position, direction of movement and speed of movement but not about intensity other than width. The smaller the cyclne the higher possiblity of wind speeds and vice versa the larger the less likely to have destructive winds.

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