Tropical Cyclone Kenneth, at hurricane strength and intensifying, is less than 24 hours from a devastating strike on northern Mozambique. It threatens to become the second destructive storm to make landfall in the nation in as many months.
Damaging winds and major flooding are anticipated in the vicinity of the storm, as well as a substantial ocean surge at the coast or a towering rise in water above normally dry land.
Mozambique is still in the midst of recovering from Tropical Cyclone Idai, which last month became the deadliest storm to strike the region on record. That storm also delivered flooding to parts of the country threatened by Kenneth.
While such storms are called tropical cyclones in the southern Indian Ocean, Idai and Kenneth are no different in function and form from hurricanes that strike U.S. shores.
The Joint Typhoon Warning Center forecasts Kenneth to become a Category 2 storm with winds of 120 mph (105 knots) when it makes landfall in northern Mozambique. The storm is expected to weaken somewhat as it moves ashore, but it should be a powerful hurricane-force storm when it first strikes.
The JTWC is predicting that Kenneth’s intensity will “rapidly increase” in the next 12 to 18 hours.
Warmer-than-normal water in the region and an ideal high-altitude ventilation pattern may allow for Kenneth to intensify even faster, increasing its destructive potential.
“Two of our best intensity models . . . predicted . . . that Kenneth would peak as a Category 4 storm with 130 - 150 mph winds, and make landfall at Category 3 or 4 strength,” Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters wrote Tuesday.
Wind strength aside, very heavy rain is inevitable for northern Mozambique and southern Tanzania.
Reminiscent of recent major rainmakers in the United States, such as Harvey, “Kenneth will be a very wet and slow-moving storm at landfall, moving at less than 10 mph. The storm is expected to meander just inland after landfall, keeping a portion of its circulation over water,” Masters wrote.
Weather models suggest that widespread totals of a foot or even up to 20 inches are possible, particularly across northern Mozambique. There could even be a threat of the storm regenerating entirely if it emerges over water for a time, which would add more moisture to a volatile mix.
The region is ill suited for more rain as it continues to cope with the aftermath of Cyclone Idai, which struck southern parts of Mozambique about six weeks ago. While Idai focused its fury south of where Kenneth will come ashore, the disturbance that caused the cyclone delivered flooding to northern parts of the country, displacing thousands there first.
That storm went on to become the costliest tropical cyclone on record in the southern Indian Ocean. It killed at least 1,000 people, becoming the deadliest storm in the modern era in that region.
Now, according to Masters, Cyclone Kenneth threatens to make history as the second Category 2 storm to strike Mozambique in the same year. And if it does not accomplish that, it will nonetheless probably be the northernmost hurricane-force storm to make landfall in this portion of Africa.
Kenneth is part of a record swarm of tropical cyclones in the region this season.
“The South Indian Ocean has recorded 10 ‘very intense cyclones,’ the equivalent of a major hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean, or a Category 3 or stronger storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale,” writes Eric Berger at Ars Technica.
This season of disastrous firsts for Mozambique is consistent with expectations in a warming world, with these cyclones feeding off abnormally warm waters and delivering wind, rain and storm surge that are nearly without precedent.