Tropical Cyclone Erica

1 - 12 March 2003


Long-lived Erica formed over Queensland but developed into the strongest tropical cyclone on record to affect New Caledonia since Beti which devastated the country in 1996. A monsoon low that had drifted over continental Australia during the second half of February finally emerged into the Coral Sea near the Whitsunday Islands early on 3 March. Gale to storm-force winds occurred on the coast around Cairns associated with tight topographically induced pressure gradient on the northern side of the low.

Once offshore the low reached tropical cyclone intensity under decreasing wind shear reaching maximum winds of 28 m/s (55 knots) at 1800 UTC 4 March. Erica changed from an easterly to a more northerly track as a low to mid-level ridge developed to the south and west. Erica encountered increasing wind shear and was downgraded below gale-force intensity at 0000 UTC 7 March, temporarily reintensifying on 8 March as it moved to the northeast. A strengthening of the monsoon set the low on an easterly course south of the Solomon Islands for the next few days.

The low recommenced intensification on 10 March with a more favourable environment of low wind shear coinciding with an active MJO phase. A slow moving upper trough over eastern Australia accelerated Erica to the southeast. Erica reached hurricane-force intensity at 1800 UTC 11 March peaking at 59 m/s (115 knots) winds at 0600 UTC 13 March about 500 kilometres west-northwest of Noumea, New Caledonia. The following day Erica 's core closely paralleled the southwest coast of the main island of New Caledonia , crossing over the southern end of the island. The system was rapidly accelerating toward the east-southeast and beginning to rapidly weaken under increasing shear. Erica underwent extra-tropical transition as it moved rapidly into the mid-latitudes passing well to the east of New Zealand on 16-17 March.

Erica 's main impact was on the main island of New Caledonia, where the west coast and Noumea suffered extensive damage. Two people died and more than one hundred injured. Maximum gusts of 67 m/s were recorded at Koniambo and Vavouto while Noumea recorded a 56 m/s gust. Some damage also occurred in the Cairns district of North Queensland when Erica , at pre-TC stage, moved offshore.

Track and intensity

All times in UTC. Add 10 hours to convert to EST.

Best Track of Tropical Cyclone Erica