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Samoan Cyclone History

By: Christopher C. Burt, 10:19 PM GMT on December 13, 2012

Samoan Cyclone History

Samoa has just experienced one of its worst tropical storms on record, Cyclone Evan, which churned through the island chain with 100 mph winds on December 12-13. It has so far resulted in at least two fatalities and extensive damage reports are filtering in. Tropical storms occur every year in this region between November and April. Here is a brief historical recap of some of the worst tropical storms to have affected the Samoan island chain.

A photograph of Cyclone Evan in action at the town of Vaivase, Samoa on December 12th. Image tweeted by Niva@iLoveSamoa4eva.

Perhaps the most powerful storm on record to hit the islands was Severe Tropical Cyclone Val that took nine days to traverse the island chain (see map at end of blog) from December 4-13, 1991. Sustained winds of 105 mph and gusts to 145 mph were measured, along with ocean waves up to 50 feet in height. There were 17 fatalities associated with the storm and damage was estimated at $368 million (in 1991 dollars). An incredible figure for such a small area and economy. Just a year earlier, in February 1990, Cyclone Ofa struck Samoa with sustained winds of 115 mph and gusts to 130 mph killing seven and causing approximately $200 million in damage. At the time, Ofa was considered the worst tropical storm to have occurred since the ‘Great Hurricane’ of 1889.

The Great Samoan ‘Hurricane’ of 1889

The most famous and deadliest tropical storm to strike Samoa (in modern records) was that of March 1889. This storm influenced the balance of Western imperial power in the Southern Pacific.

In early 1889 the United States and Germany were flexing their Pacific imperial muscles via an ambitious ‘gun boat diplomacy’ policy in the Southern Pacific region. The Samoan Islands were in their sites. By mid-March naval forces of both nations confronted one another in the harbor of Apia and a military showdown was imminent. Then, on March 15th, a powerful tropical storm with winds estimated well over 100 mph slammed into the island. By the time the storm had cleared three U.S naval vessels along with 52 sailors had been wrecked or sunk and three German vessels with 93 sailors suffered a similar fate. On land and sea a total of at least 200 souls perished as a result of the storm.

The German corvette ‘Olga’ lies beached on Samoa following the cyclone of 1889. Photographer unknown.

Many acts of heroism on the part of both sides and the Samoan natives were reported and, in the end, the Germans and Americans decided to settle their claims amicably by dividing their annexations. The islands of Upolu (where Apia is located) and Savaii went to the German forces (Western Samoa), and the islands of Tutuila (where Pago Pago is located) and Manua went to the United Staes and became known as American Samoa. After the First World War and German defeat, the German Samoan islands came under New Zealand control until 1962 when they became an independent country. American Samoa is still a territory of the United States.

A map of the Samoan Islands. Map produced by Pacific Island Guides.

For my latest featured blog: “November 2012 Global Weather Extremes Summary” please see the entry here.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

Tropical Storms Extreme Weather Mini Blog

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

Thanks a lot! I've learned a lot about Samoa the last hours. And IMHO: Typhoon track forecasts in the western Pacific need some improvement (at least this is what I thought tracking Bapho/Pablo and now Evan).
Nice informative blog, thanks....
Thanks for the update Chris..
I never knew of the history of the Samoan Islands..
Now I do..
Very interesting..
Thanks again..
Very good post. Enjoyed reading it.
Very interesting , thanks .
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