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Weather office replies to claims of ‘dropping the ball’ during Gita

National Weather Service office in American Samoa. [SN file photo]
Says they issued watches and warnings to the public, in time to prepare

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Complaints and concerns have been raised in the territory about the lack of emergency communication and updates during Tropical Storm Gita that struck American Samoa on the 9th of February. In an exclusive interview with Samoa News, last Friday, Elinor Lutu-McMoore, Meterologist in-Charge responded, after first apologizing to the community, especially to all the families that were affected because of tropical storm Gita.

The local weather service communications was knocked out during Gita, when power and communications lines went down at the airport, where the National Weather Service Office (NWSO) is located. Service was not restored until much later — after the worse of Gita and the monsoon trough had moved away from American Samoa.

Members of the community who called Samoa News last week said that not only did they not get official warning from our local NWSO about how strong the winds were, but they were also misinformed in the weather reports that were announced on air on Thursday, the day before Gita hit American Samoa.

According to a concerned citizen from Pago Pago, their family was not aware of whether or not there was going to be a strong storm or cyclone coming. They said that they relied on the weather reports from Samoa because there was no accurate weather report from our NWSO in Tafuna.

“The only weather report we heard on Thursday night before the hurricane hit us was the report by our local television station, saying that there’s nothing to worried about — we’re not going to face any strong wind — only low pressure,” said Filitoga Alema of Pago Pago.

A woman from Nuuuli told Samoa News that she was confused about the terms our local weather office used to describe Gita, and the terms the Samoa weather office used to describe the same storm during their weather reports.

“I’m still confused and frustrated about what happened to my family because of Gita,” the angry woman said. “According to the weather report from our local weather office in Tafuna, they said — it’s a tropical storm watch/ warning, but according to the weather report from Samoa, it was a tropical cyclone CAT 1 warning. I was confused whether it was a storm or a cyclone, but then Gita came — it was a cyclone, not a storm.”

Most of the complaints from local people are on the terms used by our local weather office versus those the Samoa weather office was using.

In her response, Elinor Lutu-McMoore, Meterologist in-Charge said, despite the different terminology used, it’s the same weather event.

 “When Samoa put out warning for ‘Tropical Cyclone CAT 1 Warning’ with the speed of 39- 54 mph, it’s was the same with our warning that was given out about the ‘Tropical Storm Watch/Warning, with the speed of 39-73 mph. It’s the same warning with about the same speed but different terminology,” she said.

The Meteorologist in-Charge said that their office issued the warning during the whole week before Gita stuck the territory on Friday morning. Prior to these warnings, the community was also informed that since November of last year hurricane season had started and goes on until April of this year.

“When we issue our watches that means you have to start your preparations, because when it’s a warning it’s already too late for you to prepare,” Lutu-McMoore said.

On Sunday of that same week, she said that was when they started putting out their messages, as the model showed something was coming, and on Monday, “we issued our flash flood watch and there were a lot of warnings throughout the whole week for our people to prepare.”

She said, “Before we even issued the tropical storm watch, we even gave out a wind advisory for our community to be aware off. On Thursday night before Gita stuck our territory, our tropical storm warning was also put out. We always want our residents to understand that every time we put out ‘watches’ of weather for a tropical storm or flash flooding, our people would know what to do next.

“We also want our people especially our children to be familiar with the terminology we’re using here in American Samoa, and the terminology that the Samoa weather office is also using.

“It’s the same warning,” she emphasized.

Lutu-McMoore then repeated something that both Samoas’ weather offices have been stating: “I urge our people that if you live in American Samoa, please be more familiar with our terminology. If you are in American Samoa during the time of a tropical storm or cyclone, listen to the weather report from our local weather office, but if you’re in Samoa, please, listen to the weather report in Apia.”

She said, “I apologize if you feel we failed to do our part but regardless of what happened, our staff left their families and home and came over to the office to work 24-hours, because they know and understand how important this information is for our people. We did our best to make sure our community was safe.”

Lutu-McMoore stressed that the most important thing is for everyone to start thinking that whenever the hurricane season arrives everyone needs to start the preparations.

She also urges the community to voice and share their feedback with the weather office, whether it’s good or bad, because from there, they can build up a good working relationship with the community.