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Explainer: Why the impact of deadly Cyclone Ialy on the Kenyan coast was unpredictable

When the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) issued an alert over the weekend about an impending storm in the Indian Ocean that would affect coastal counties, the main focus of disaster management teams was how to prevent disasters at sea.

In its alert, the KMD warned that the region would witness heavy rain, strong winds and large ocean waves.

Several advisories were quickly issued to marine operators, mostly fishermen who rely on small boats, to avoid the sea during the period Tropical Storm Ialy was expected to last in Kenyan waters.

However, by Monday night there were clear signs in Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale counties that incidents could occur on the mainland due to strong winds.

In a significant turn of events, the KMD revealed on Tuesday that Tropical Storm Ialy had in fact become a cyclone moving too close to Kenya, marking a historic moment in the southwestern Indian Ocean basin.

In science, what differentiates a storm from a cyclone are factors such as its speed, size and mode of movement.

The World Meteorological Organization states that “a tropical cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm that originates over tropical oceans from where it draws energy to develop.”

“It has a low pressure center and clouds that spiral toward the eyewall that surrounds the ‘eye,’ the central part of the system where the weather is normally calm and cloud-free,” he adds.

The diameter of a cyclone varies between 200 and 1,000 kilometers.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), tropical cyclones have different names depending on where they occur.

The term tropical cyclone is often used in the Indian Ocean, while hurricanes are used for the Atlantic and eastern Pacific, and typhoons for the western Pacific.

Hurricane and typhoon

“The terms ‘hurricane’ and ‘typhoon’ are regional names for tropical cyclones. All tropical cyclones are similar in that they extract heat from warm water at the ocean surface to drive horizontal rotating winds,” the agency states.

In this week’s event in the coastal region, the storm not only became a cyclone, but the eventual cyclone came too close to the Kenyan coast in a way that weather experts said was unprecedented.

This is because the physics surrounding cyclone formation are typically not applicable within a 300-mile radius of the equator. This is why the previous Cyclone Hidaya had little effect on Kenya compared to neighboring Tanzania.

However, Cyclone Ialy passed within 150 kilometers of the Kenyan coast, a very rare occurrence, leaving a trail of destruction and the loss of two lives in the coastal region, including a four-year-old kindergarten boy.

“This development, unprecedented in the era of satellite observation, places the intense system located northwest of 5 degrees S/45 degrees E, alarmingly close to the coast of Kenya,” the director of Meteorological Services said in a statement. , Dr. David Gikungu.

“Cyclone Ialy was peculiar in that it moved quite close to the equator and retained significant strength, being characterized by strong winds (55 km/h) and high ocean waves and gusts at maximum speeds of 75 km/h,” explained Dr Gikungu. .

While cyclones are rare near the equator due to the weak Coriolis effect, the appearance of Cyclone Ialy highlights the possibility of storms affecting equatorial regions in the future.

This underlines the importance of continued monitoring and understanding of atmospheric dynamics in the southwestern Indian Ocean.

In conclusion, the intensification of Tropical Storm Ialy into a cyclone serves as a reminder of the need for greater awareness and preparation for such weather events, even in regions where they are traditionally less common.

As weather patterns evolve, events like Cyclone Ialy underscore the dynamic nature of our planet’s climate systems and the importance of remaining vigilant.

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