Cyclone Neil forms, poses direct threat to Tonga

Tracking and threat areas for Cyclone Neil as of Saturday evening courtesy of Fiji Met.

Tropical Cyclone Neil has today formed east of Fiji and will track southwards towards Tonga, caught up in a large area of tropical unrest that will remain north of New Zealand for possibly the rest of February, producing further lows and cyclones.

The Fiji Met Service named the storm on Saturday afternoon. The cyclone is not expected to become a major storm but should retain Category 1 status (or near it) when it passes over Tonga later on Sunday and early Monday.

The Fiji Met Service doesn't expect it to be any stronger at this stage. Heavy rain and strong winds/gales are likely for about 24 hours there. says Neil won't have a long life as it tracks southwards away from the tropics and over cool, less favourable conditions - weakening quickly early next week.

Neil is one of three tropical lows between NZ and the Fiji/Tonga area right at this moment. Two other lows will merge and brush past East Cape later this Sunday bringing some rain that may penetrate further west for a time, as far west as Coromandel Peninsula and maybe even eastern Northland.

The two lows merging will actually weaken further on Monday just east of East Cape and falls apart almost entirely on Tuesday as it tracks away from the country - that is until the remnants of Neil catch up and the three lows merge near the International Date Line well east of NZ.

Another low is developing behind Neil and may be bigger.

The next low will follow behind Neil but is caught up in a much larger pool of low pressure that stretches from the Coral Sea near Queensland well out towards American Samoa - basically the tropics North West, North and North East of NZ. says this next storm behind Neil will be pulled in a large clockwise fashion and may end up tracking west toward New Caledonia - different to Neil's direct south track.

So what does this mean? It means the next storm may linger much longer north of NZ and dance around another low creating uncertainty of future tracking and strength.

The jury is still out on whether or not the following storm may bring rain to northern NZ - some modelling says yes, others aren't so positive. At this stage it looks around 60% likely according to