A tropical cyclone which could reach New Zealand early next week has been upgraded to category 2 and is likely to become even stronger.
Tropical Cyclone Hola was named by Fiji Meteorological Service in the early hours of this morning.
It lies just to the east of Ambrym, Vanuatu, and is expected to bring heavy rain, damaging winds and rough coastal conditions to much of the country today.
The centre will pass very near to Port Vila today. It was moving slowly WSW at 11m/h (6 knots).
In its latest bulletin Fiji Metservice upgraded the cyclone to category 2, and it is forecast to reach category 3 early tomorrow morning.
The New Zealand MetService says the forecast tracks indicate the system will move westwards across Malakula, Vanuatu over the coming days, before recurving late Thursday - early Friday and heading south eastward towards New Zealand waters.
"Tropical Cyclone tracks are hard to forecast and often change as the system develops," a MetService spokeswoman said.
"It is too early to be certain about the track of this cyclone as it passes over New Zealand waters but some of the models are indicating that it could pass by the upper North Island late Sunday into Monday.
"The position and timing of the recurve will determine the final track."
The cyclone is forecast to become category 3 tomorrow morning. Image/Fiji Metservice
Hola is currently the responsibility of the Fiji Metservice, but is expected to change over to the New Zealand MetService during the weekend as it moves south.
WeatherWatch NZ said the cyclone was intensifying faster than official forecasts.
On Thursday it would track westward away from Vanuatu and north of New Caledonia, intensifying into a Category 3 cyclone (which classes it as "severe") on Thursday or Friday during or after Hola starts to turn southward.
WeatherWatch NZ said the storm could peak on Friday or early Saturday.
Some models have the cyclone tracking for New Zealand early next week. Image/JTWC
"Computer modelling remains quite divided with Hola, more so than with Fehi or Gita, but both ECMWF out of Europe and GFS out of America show Hola turning south eastward by the end of the week and across the weekend.
"The majority of data [WeatherWatch NZ] trusts suggests Hola is going to lean eastwards as it tracks towards New Zealand this weekend.
"We won't know about if Hola might impact New Zealand until the end of this week."