Tropical Storm Pabuk hit the southern coast of Thailand on 4 January, impacting ferry journeys and flights to popular tourist spots including Phuket, Koh Samui and Koh Tao.
The storm brings maximum sustained winds of 80km per hour, causing waves of up to five metres high, as well as heavy rainfall.
Tourists have been pictured fleeing popular holiday island resorts in Thailand as the storm bears down during the busy holiday period.
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There are fears that the storm will be the worst to hit Thailand since 1989, when Typhoon Gay left more than 400 dead.
The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises that tourists in the area should follow instructions from local authorities and monitor weather warnings from the Thai Meteorological Department, adding that they should check their travel plans with transport providers before leaving their hotel or home.
What are the areas affected and how severe is the storm?
The storm will affect mainly southern Thailand and the islands in the Gulf of Thailand. In total, 16 provinces are expected to be impacted.
It is extremely unusual – it’s the strongest storm in the Gulf of Thailand for almost 30 years, and the last event happened when mass tourism had yet to become established.
The Thai Meteorological Department says that Tropical Storm Pabuk is moving with maximum sustained winds of 80 km and hour (50 miles an hour) and causing waves of up to five metres (16 feet). It is bearing down the tourist islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. This trio are classic tropical islands with superb beaches and plenty of activities from golf to diving. And they’re extremely popular with British travellers, especially at this time of year, with many people enjoying extended New Year holidays.
On the other side of the southeast Asian peninsula, the island of Phuket and the resort of Krabi are also in line for severe weather.
The Thai Meteorological Department says that the storm will bring torrential downpours and strong winds to these provinces today: Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon, Surat Thani, Nakhon Si Thammarart, Phatthalung, Songkhla, Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Ranong, Phangnga, Phuket, Krabi, Trang and Satun.
On 5 January, torrential rain and strong wind will affect the provinces of Phetchaburi, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Chumphon, Surat Thani, Nakhon Si Thammarart, Phatthalung, Ranong, Phangnga, Phuket, Krabi, Trang and Satun.
Widespread heavy rain will affect much of southern Thailand and people should be aware of run-offs and flash floods, warns the weather agency.
Strong winds will bring waves of between three and five metres high to the Gulf of Thailand, and between two and three metres high in the Andaman Sea.
Tourists have been leaving Koh Samui before the storm hits.
How is transport affected?
All ships have been told to stay in harbour on Friday and for most of Saturday, and dozens of flights have been cancelled on Bangkok Airways, Thai and AirAsia.
Flights in and out of Bangkok’s main international airport are not affected.
Flights to Phuket, a popular holiday island, are currently operating normally. But the storm is likely to hit Phuket on 5 January, and travellers are being advised to check their flights.
Bangkok Airways has cancelled all flights to and from Koh Samui Airport on 4 January. A notice on the website says that passengers affected by the cancellation can rebook their flights for free.
Nakhon Si Thammarat airport is closed until noon on 5 January.
Meanwhile, all ferry services have been cancelled until the storm passes.
How bad could the impact be?
The usual waves in the Gulf of Thailand are normally no more than two metres high. The wave heights predicted are similar to those which resulted from the devastating Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, when thousands of people, including many tourists, died in southern Thailand.
But after that tragedy there’s more preparedness and an understanding of the possible risks, and how to counter them. Many people have moved from the islands to the mainland, in search of more solid places to stay.
What’s the advice for travellers who are still in the region?
For anyone who is on the islands: the only advice is to stay put, and seek shelter. All flights and ferries in the region have been cancelled all day on Friday and Saturday, and aren’t expected to start again until Sunday.
The Australian government, which has a large number of citizens in the region, is warning them to “secure your passport in a safe, waterproof location or carry it on you at all times”, and to contact friends and family with regular updates – though the fragile phone system may not survive the storm.
What about people who are booked to travel to the region – can they cancel?
Thailand is very popular at this time of year, and around 20,000 British visitors are expected to fly to the country in the coming week. At present the only people who have the right to cancel and claim a refund are travellers booked to the affected region who can’t reach it or whose accommodation is unusable. Anyone travelling independently is likely to be told their flight can’t be cancelled without losing most or all of the cost.
Will the storm affect other regions?
Pabuk is expected to track through the Andaman Sea over the weekend, crossing the Andaman Islands on the evening of 6 January, the Indian weather agency said. It will then move towards the Myanmar coast and weaken over 7-8 January.
The islands will experience heavy rain and winds of up to 75km an hour from the evening of 5 January, and the sea will be rough, says the agency. There will also be wind and rain in the Bay of Bengal.
Global weather service Foreca said that the storm will also bring heavy rains to southern parts of Myanmar and Malaysia.
When is South East Asia’s typhoon season?
Typhoons, as they’re known in the north-west Pacific, occur when the sea is at its warmest.
In South East Asia, typhoons typically occur between June and November.
Meanwhile, across the South Pacific, Tropical Cyclone Mona is approaching Fiji. The Foreign Office is warning that it “may strengthen to a category 2 cyclone by 5 January, bringing strong winds and heavy rain”.