A potentially disastrous cyclone is set to make landfall in the African country of Mozambique, most likely bringing a devastating storm surge and flooding to the nation’s fourth-largest city.
Cyclone Idai right now has sustained 110 mph winds gusting to above 130 mph, making it the equivalent of a strong Category 2 hurricane. The storm is expected to make landfall late Thursday night local time just south of Beira.
Tropical cyclones spin clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere, putting the city of half a million on the extremely dangerous and more intense side of the storm’s eyewall, the zone of most powerful winds and where storm surge is maximized.
MeteoFrance warned that “the worst case scenario is very likely” in its most recent bulletin, issued Thursday just after noon Eastern time. The agency went further, explaining the peak storm surge “will probably be associated with the high tide later tonight.” It is calling for a devastating 10- to 14-foot storm surge, with destructive waves and surf that could propel water even higher.
The storm surge could approach six meters — 20 feet — at the mouth of the Pungwe River, where Beira is located. If this scenario is realized, thousands of homes and businesses will be underwater — particularly just south of Beira’s airport — with more than 1,000 residents potentially displaced. The inundations will be made worse by moisture from recent heavy rains attempting to drain from the river into the sea.
Heavy rains ahead of Idai’s wind field have already killed 122 in Mozambique and Malawi, according to Weather.com. An additional eight to 10 inches, with locally more than 14, could occur as the system weakens and dissipates over Mozambique in the next 48 hours.
The system was born from a cluster of showers and thunderstorms March 2-3, gaining some tropical characteristics as it trekked east across the Mozambique Channel toward Madagascar on March 5. Downpours from the tropical wave drenched northeastern Madagascar with flooding rains March 6-7, with nearly 10 inches falling on Antsohihy.
Idai was named a tropical storm early Saturday, maintaining strength through the weekend before rapidly intensifying to a 105 mph tempest by Monday morning.