A huge tropical cyclone with winds above 125 mph just slammed into Mozambique, the southeastern African country that’s still reeling from Cyclone Idai, a storm that killed more than 1,000 people last month.
The new storm is called Cyclone Kenneth, and it hit the sparsely populated northern region of the country on Thursday. The wind speeds are scary, but the bigger threat is that storm is expected to stall out over the northeastern corner of the country for the next few days, dumping feet of rain. The United Nations estimates 747,000 people living in the path of the storm are in danger from the flooding it may bring.
Tropical cyclones are the exact same weather phenomena as hurricanes and typhoons. Their names vary based on where in the world they originate. On the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale Kenneth would rate as a Category 3 or 4. The exact windspeed at landfall is not yet known.
A tropical cyclone of this intensity has not hit the northern region of Mozambique in 50 years, and the villages the storm will hit have “no experience of a storm of this magnitude,” Weather Underground explains.
Kenneth is expected to push 10 feet of water on shore in a storm surge, a form of flooding that is exacerbated by sea-level rise. And some areas in the northeastern region of the country could possibly see 40 inches of rain.
“Rivers within this region of Mozambique may flood, especially as at least one of the dams is already close to full capacity, preventing floodwater from being retained. This will make it almost impossible to distribute aid, as roads will become impassable,” Marc Nosbach, the Mozambique country director for the humanitarian aid organization CARE, said in a statement.
The storm is already a killer. On its way to Mozambique, it passed through the island nation of Comoros, where three people died, the New York Times reports.
The devastation will only add to the burden of a country still reeling from Cyclone Idai, which one UN official called “one of the worst” weather disasters to ever occur in the Southern Hemisphere.
This is “a double whammy of disasters,” Nosbach said in the statement. “Existing relief resources for Idai are not sufficient as things stand. Due to the funding situation our teams are stretched beyond their capacity and responding to another disaster in Mozambique without more resources will be very difficult, if not impossible.”
Idai hit further to the south, near the port city of Beria, killing at least 1,000, and displacing tens of thousands from their homes. It brought 13 feet of deadly storm surge to some coastal areas in Mozambique. The result of all that water: An “inland ocean” formed near Beira. It was a huge amount of water, measuring around 80 miles long by 15 miles wide. More than 58,660 homes were destroyed by the storm, and 1.7 million people needed food assistance after the storm.
It’s hard to know if the double whammy of storms is connected to climate change. But here’s what we do know: Climate change is allowing storms to hold more moisture. “There is absolutely no doubt that when there is a tropical cyclone like this, then because of climate change the rainfall intensities are higher,” Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at University of Oxford, told the BBC.
Why hurricanes are expected to dump more rain in a warming world
Sea level rise means that storm surges are also worse, and there’s some emerging evidence that climate change makes the rapid intensification of storms more likely (Kenneth increased from Category 1 intensity to Category 4 in one day). It’s also possibly making storms more likely to slow down, dumping more rain. While it will take some time for scientists to figure out how much of Kenneth’s intensity to attribute to climate change, what’s already clear is that all of these factors are present.