Cyclone Hidaya might be kind on Kenya but prepare for more rains

Nairobi's Mathare residents trying to salvage their belongings after a night of flooding on April 24, 2024. [Robert Tomno, Standard]

When it rains, it pours, as they say. In eastern Africa, it has been pouring. Deaths and devastation reported across the region are heartbreaking, to say the least.

But news of Cyclone Hidaya, which emerged from the Indian Ocean came as an unsettling reminder of the changing times that Africans are living in, as the third cyclone of its kind, comes calling.

The question lingering in the minds of Kenyans and Tanzanians is, what is this Hidaya?

According to the World Meteorological Organization, a tropical cyclone - also referred to as a hurricane or typhoon - is a rapidly rotating storm that begins over tropical oceans.

Various warning centres usually name Tropical and subtropical cyclones to simplify communication between forecasters and the general public regarding forecasts, watches, and warnings.

Tropical Cyclone Hidaya is said to have developed over the South Indian Ocean, east of Tanzania and northeast of Comoros, on Wednesday, May 1. It was designated the name ‘Hidaya’ by the Meteo France La Reunion, with forecast models tracking it west-northwestward between May 2-4, 2024.

Before the formal start of naming, tropical cyclones were often named after places, objects, or saints’ feast days on which they occurred.

Along the Indian Ocean, the north Indian Ocean tropical cyclones are named by the India Meteorological Department – that is cyclone Amphan while in South West Indian Ocean, these violent weather phenomena are named when they are judged to have intensified into tropical storms with winds of at least 63km/h.

As the region braces itself for the storm, Kenya is not sitting ducks. However, experts say it may not be as bad as initially feared.

Dr Philip Omondi, a senior climate scientist at IGAD, said the cyclone might not have much effect on Kenya.

“Cyclone Hidaya has not much effect over Kenya… that cyclone that is to the southern hemisphere cannot cross the equator. Because of the Coriolis force, no cyclone can cross the equator to the other side,” Dr Omondi explained.

Omondi adds that the Coriolis force is zero at the equator which crosses Kenya, therefore, as the Coriolis force acts in a north-south direction, it will stop the cyclone winds from hitting Kenya hard.

The scientist says the Kenya Coast and Malawi may just experience a little impact from strong winds.

Laws of physics

This is a position that was corroborated by Mary Kilavi, the Assistant Director at Kenya Meteorological Department, who said, “It’s crucial to clarify that it won’t directly hit the Kenyan Coast due to the laws of physics governing cyclone formation, which don’t apply within 480km from the equator.”

She added: “However, Hidaya Is forecasted to make landfall on the coast of Tanzania between May 3rd and 4th. Before landfall, the Kenyan coast may experience its effects through strong winds and large waves”.

She also warned that more rain may be expected.

“Presently, its indirect impact is enhancing rainfall over the western half of the country via the meridional arm of the ITCZ, (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone) inducing low and mid-level westerly winds. After landfall, another independent system is anticipated to develop, causing heavy rainfall over the Kenyan coast from May 5th to 7th,” Kilavi explained.

The IGAD Climate Prediction and Application Centre (ICPAC) has released a statement noting that the cyclone is forecasted to make landfall on May 4.

According to ICPAC, the cyclone is located 530 kilometres east-southeast of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and has been tracked north-westward at nine kilometres per hour over the past six hours.

Its maximum significant wave height is 7.9 meters as it is anticipated to intensify to a peak of 165km/h in around 24 hours if the environment remains conducive with high moisture content.

The statement further noted that the situation would be particularly dire in the coastal regions, Dar es Salaam and the Kilimanjaro area, where urban and low-lying areas have been overwhelmed by floodwaters. 

The climate body has advised residents to secure loose objects or roofs that could become projectiles in high winds and reinforce windows and doors.

Local authorities were also advised to activate evacuation plans as they prepare emergency kits with non-perishable food, medications, and water to last several days.

They were also advised to prepare for alternative means of power supply and monitor local news for updates. The expected cyclone caused fear among people as Mozambique - which borders Tanzania to the South -  also issued a notice of the impending storm.

Mozambique’s National Institute of Meteorology (INAM), stated that rainfall totals of more than 2 inches and winds gusting up to 70 kilometres per hour over northern and eastern parts of Cabo Delgado Province.

The winds blasting up to 70km/h are predicted over much of the rest of Cabo Delgado and far northeastern Nampula Provinces.

Eye of the Storm

Despite Kenya not being predicted to be in the eye of the storm, the government has been anticipating it. The Cabinet ordered residents living in the five coastal counties likely to be affected by the flooding and mudslides to evacuate within 24 hours.

The Ministry of Interior further said there is a high risk of floods in Msambweni (Kwale), Ganze and Malindi (Kilifi), Lamu Central (Lamu) and Taita and Taveta (Taita-Taveta) sub-counties. 

The Coastal region has so far not experienced heavy rains falling in other parts of the country.

In 2019, Cyclone Idai hit Malawi, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, leaving at least 1,593 people dead. More than three million people were displaced with hundreds of hectares of land under crops wrecked.

In April of the same year, Cyclone Kenneth made landfall in Mozambique, causing more destruction. It killed 52 people after sweeping through Seychelles, Comoros, Madagascar, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique.

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