Tropical cyclone Mekunu, bearing hurricane strength, is growing ever stronger in the Arabian Sea. The storm is forecast to slam into southwest Oman, packing maximum sustained winds of about 110 mph late Friday into early Saturday local time.
If the storm is in fact this strong at landfall, it would match the power of a high-end Category 2 or low-end Category 3 hurricane. In recorded history, no storm that intense has struck the region.
Mekunu is presently classified as a very severe cyclonic storm and packs peak winds of 90 mph. Its predicted path brings it very close to or just to the west of the city of Salalah, Oman’s second-biggest, with a population of about 200,000.
Salalah, which is a popular tourist destination, may face destructive winds, devastating flooding rain and dangerously high seas.
Like a bulldozer, the storm will push a formidable storm surge onto the coast, raising the water level at least several feet above normally dry land just to the east of where it makes landfall. Low-lying homes, businesses and roads may be engulfed by ocean water.
The toll from flash flooding could be especially serious. Annual average rainfall in Salalah is about five inches. Mekunu could unload double that yearly amount in just a day or two.
Computer model forecasts show a swath of 8 to 16 inches of rain along and just to the east of the path of the storm’s center.
Mountainous areas just inland from the coast may be especially hard-hit.
“Moisture-laden winds will plow directly into the Qara Mountains and get forced upward,” write Bob Henson and Jeff Masters at Weather Underground Category 6 blog. “Torrential runoff can be expected from these hillsides onto the coastal plain.”
Al Jazeera reports that officials in Salalah are readying the city for the storm’s impact:
The police urged citizens to seek safety and warned that floods were likely in valleys. It also said it planned to deploy more ambulances and police officers to areas likely to be affected by the cyclone.
Also, the health ministry said it evacuated critically ill patients at locations of the Sultan Qaboos Hospital in Salalah, flying them by air north to Muscat, the country’s capital. State television aired images of others being evacuated from remote villages in the path of the cyclone.
While southwest Oman is likely to witness the storm’s most severe effects, areas of eastern Yemen may also experience significant flash flooding.
On Thursday, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center said conditions are favorable for the storm to modestly intensify in the final 24 to 36 hours before landfall. Ocean temperatures in the storm’s path are in the mid-80s (near 30 Celsius), providing ample fuel for the storm to feed on. Once it moves over land, it is then forecast to weaken rapidly.
Since 1980, 16 tropical cyclones have passed within 100 miles of the Oman and Yemen coast. But only three made landfall at hurricane strength:
- Chapala in 2015, the first instance of a hurricane landfall in Yemen
- Phet in 2010, which made landfall as a Category 2-equivalent storm in Oman
- Gonu in 2007, which made landfall as a Category 1-equivalent storm in Oman
Mekunu comes on the heels of the landfall of Cyclone Sagar in Somalia, which was the strongest storm in recorded history to hit that country and made landfall farther west in the North Indian Ocean basin than any previous storm on record.