Just a month after Cyclone Idai killed more than 1000 people in Mozambique, destroyed the coastal city of Beira, and left hundreds of thousands of people displaced, another tropical storm has hit the country: Cyclone Kenneth.
Kenneth, a category 3 cyclone, came packing winds of 201km/h (125mph) and struck the sparsely populated northern region of the country late Thursday after sweeping the Comoros islands where three people died. The bigger threat is that the storm is expected to hover over the northeastern corner of the country for the next few days, dumping huge amounts of rain, putting an estimated 747,000 people living in the path of the storm in danger from the flooding it may bring.
A cyclone of this magnitude has not hit Mozambique in the past 50 years, and there is no record of two cyclones of this intensity striking Mozambique in the same season. What has changed? The answer is climate.
The climate change factor
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said in a statement on Thursday that Cyclone Kenneth hit "an area where no tropical cyclone has been observed since the satellite era," WMO said in a statement. WMO spokeswoman Clare Nullis stated that climate change has made cyclones more damaging as rising sea levels have increased the strength of storm surges and thus higher or more powerful waves are driven towards the shore.
Studies on the effects of climate change on the frequency and intensity of cyclones that use future projections based on theory and high-resolution dynamical models consistently indicate that greenhouse warming will cause the globally averaged intensity of tropical cyclones to shift towards stronger storms, with intensity increases of 2–11% by 2100. Existing modelling studies also consistently project decreases in the globally averaged frequency of tropical cyclones, by 6–34%. Balanced against this, higher resolution modelling studies typically project substantial increases in the frequency of the most intense cyclones, and increases of the order of 20% in the precipitation rate within 100km of the storm centre.
This information ties in with the WMO's observations that the current cyclone season in the southwest Indian Ocean 'has been exceptionally intense', including 15 storms and 9 'intense cyclones', tying a record set in 1993 and 1994. A fact-finding mission is currently in Mozambique to look at the impact of climate change and sea-level rise on Mozambique's resilience to extreme weather. Cyclone Idai brought 13 feet of deadly storm surge to coastal areas in Mozambique, forming an “inland ocean” near Beira measuring 129km long and 24km wide. More than 58,660 homes were destroyed by the storm, and 1.7 million people needed food assistance after the storm.
Cyclones are just one example of extreme weather events that have been intensified and/or made more frequent by climate change. Others are droughts, floods, heatwaves, cold waves, and hail storms. Furthermore, the effects of climate change go far beyond the weather. It affects our health, our food security, our water, our building safety, our economic disposition... So have we really asked ourselves how prepared Africa is for the devastating effects of climate change?
Header Image Credit: The National