The Greater Horn of Africa is often associated with famine and drought but this time, it captured headlines with a different kind of extreme event in mid-May 2018: a landfalling tropical cyclone. Tropical cyclone Sagar was the strongest cyclone to ever make landfall in Somalia. It is quite rare for a system to track this far west, traversing the entire Gulf of Aden between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. Since satellite surveillance of tropical cyclones began in mid-1960s, only two other tropical cyclones have moved into the western Gulf of Aden, according to NOAA's historical hurricane tracks database. Cyclone Megh, hammered Socotra Island, east of Somalia, making landfall along the Yemeni coast in November 2015. Before that, Tropical Cyclone 1A traversed almost the entire Gulf of Aden before landfalling in northwest Somalia on May 28, 1984. None of them however, were as strong as Tropical cyclone Sagar.
On 19 May 2018, Tropical Cyclone Sagar slammed into northern Somalia near Djibouti border with heavy rains and winds of around 60 mph making Sagar the strongest landfalling tropical storm on record for Somalia. Taking advantage of a favorable environment, low wind shear and sea surface temperatures up to 31 degrees Celsius, the system gained in much strength. However, according to local news reports, 31 people died as a result of Sagar with thousands of people and livestock affected by flash flooding. The coastal villages of Yago and Garyaara have reportedly been damaged extensively.
Such storms are rare but if they do form, they tend to be generated in the Arabian Sea in Spring and Autumn, during the transition periods between the strong southwest flow of the summer monsoon and the strong northeast flow that predominates in Winter. Outside of these transitional seasons, the Indian Ocean is dominated by the southwest flow of the summer monsoon and conversely the intense northeast flow that occurs in Winter. So, while ocean temperatures are warm enough year-round to sustain tropical cyclones, it is generally during the Spring and Autumn when atmospheric conditions are conducive for the development of tropical cyclones in the North Indian Ocean. Any storm that forms and begins to move west towards the Arabian Peninsula and the Greater Horn of Africa, when approaching the coast, begins to ingest dry air and this usually weakens the storms rapidly before they make landfall.
This area of northern Somalia also known as Somaliland, has been experiencing drastic drought over the past five years. With the additional damage done by this storm, including the destruction of farmland and infrastructure and livestock loss, food security concerns will rise. Also, the heavy rainfall that occurred across Western Yemen is likely to promote cholera infection rates.
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© 2018 Meteorologist Daneeja Mawren