When Tropical Cyclone Chapala socked Yemen with hurricane force one week ago, it was described as an unprecedented event in modern records. But incredibly, history seems destined to repeat itself just one week later, as a second tropical cyclone aims to wallop Yemen.
Following almost exactly the same path as Chapala, Tropical Cyclone Megh is forecast to make landfall in western Yemen Tuesday afternoon local time. It is unlikely to pack the same punch as Chapala, but still threatens to unload one to two year’s worth of rain and cause dangerous flooding in the storm and war ravaged country.
Two tropical cyclones have never struck Yemen in the same year, much less the same week, according to Phil Klotzbach, a tropical cyclone researcher out of Colorado State University and contributor to the Capital Weather Gang. Historical records date back to 1891 and become less reliable as you back, but there is no evidence mother nature has ever dealt Yemen this sort of double whammy.
On Saturday, Megh reached an intensity equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane and smashed into the island of Socotra, still reeling from Chapala which caused 11 deaths.
Chapala had unloaded 16 to 24 inches of rain over Socotra, according to NASA satellite estimates, equivalent to nearly a decade of rainfall. “More than a third of Socotra’s population, 18,000 people, were displaced by Chapala, according to the United Nations,” Reuters said.
As bad as Chapala was in Socotra, Megh was “several times worse”, according to Mohammed Alarqbi of the Socotra Environment Office (via the BBC). “The material damage is also worse than before, as a larger number of homes have been destroyed and 5,000 more displaced people have fled the northern shores of the island to schools, universities and hospitals,” Alarqbi said.
The BBC said at least two people died from Megh in Socotra, while social media images show massive flooding there.
Megh became the first tropical cyclone on record to reach Category 3 intensity during the month of November according to Klotzbach. Ocean temperatures one to two degrees Celsius warmer than normal helped fuel the rare storm and Chapala, its predecessor.
“Sea surface temperatures in the Arabian Sea are at an all-time high. A full 0.6 degrees Celsius warmer than 1997,” Eric Blake, a forecaster at National Hurricane Center told Forbes.com.” Blake said a combination of factors, including El Nino and climate warming, contributed to ocean’s record-shattering warmth.
Since peaking in intensity over the weekend, Megh has gradually weakened and is forecast to make landfall as the equivalent of a strong tropical storm, with peak winds of 45 to 70 mph. Megh is losing steam and forecast to weaken further because it is following in the cold wake left behind by Chapala, which consumed a good deal of the available warm water in the narrow Gulf of Aden.
But forecast models, including’s NOAA’s HWRF, still show the potential for the storm to dispense 4-8 inches of rain close to where the storm makes landfall, with isolated totals of 8-16 inches. Coastal areas in Yemen average roughly four inches of rain per year, so Megh has the potential to produce at least one to two times that much.
There is some uncertainty with respect to Megh’s specific point of landfall, but areas near and just to the east of Aden – the coastal city of over 800,000 – lie in the middle of track forecasts. As with Chapala, flash flooding near the coast poses the most significant hazard from this storm, which will rapidly collapse once it moves inland.