Yemen is in for a mess as last week’s rapidly-growing Cyclone Chapala continues to hold it together while approaching the dry desert air. If it makes landfall, it’s anticipated to be the largest storm to hit the country since we started recording them.
Based on the latest reports from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center, the storm is currently experiencing maximum sustained winds of just under 200 kilometers per hour (120 miles per hour) with gusts up to 240 kilometers per hour (150 miles per hour), the equivalent of a category 3 hurricane. Although the storm is maintaing its tight cyclone structure with a distinct eye, the winds are slowing compared to Friday and the forecasters are anticipating the storm will quickly disintegrate in the dry desert air after making landfall near Mukalla on Tuesday. Seas are already rising with the storm surge, with local residents reporting up to 9 meters (29 feet) of sea level rise along the Mukalla waterfront.
Cyclone Chapala forecast model. Image credit: USNO
If it seems strange to be talking about cyclones in the Arbian Sea, you’re not mistaken. As Dennis Mersereau explains on The Vane:
If it seems strange that there’s a classic buzzsaw-like tropical cyclone swirling toward Yemen of all places, that’s because it is. We usually see a handful of tropical cyclones in the Indian Ocean every year—they’re more common on the other side of India—but storms that form in the Arabian Sea usually don’t get this strong and they usually don’t make it to landfall. Only Cyclones Gonu (2007) and Phet (2010) are recorded to have made landfall on the Arabian Peninsula with winds equivalent to those of a hurricane, but those were both in Oman, and there are no records of a cyclone this strong making ever landfall in Yemen.
The strongest storm to hit Yemen since records started in 1979 is Deep Depression ARB 02, a storm that hit the country in October 2008 with maximum winds at under 60 kilometers per hour (35 miles per hour) and barely strong enough to qualify as a tropical storm.
Even as the storm weakens, is still has potential for serious damage. Forecasters are anticipating the equivalent of several years worth of rain to fall in just a few days. With up to 500 mm (20 inches) of rain, ten times the annual average, falling within 48 hours, the storm presents the potential for major flooding even if it doesn’t maintain hurricane-force winds.
Forecasted rainfall totals (in inches) from Cyclone Chapala. Image credit: NOAA/NCEP
Cyclone Chapala already killed at least one person and injured nine others when it swamped the island of Socotra on Sunday. The mayor of Hadibu reported that hundreds of people required hospital treatment, and that 80 homes were destroyed.
The storm is also disrupting shipping to the Indian Ocean through the Gulf of Aden.