Image courtesy National Geographic

Tropical Cyclone Idai recently formed and moved over the Mozambique Channel before making landfall over Mozambique and causing devastation to coastal areas. To help understand the cyclone’s path, National Geographic reached out to UF’s Dr. Corene Matyas. Here’s what she had to say:

Mozambique averages about 1.5 tropical cyclones a year and, although rarely more powerful than Category 2, they can cause a lot of damage, said Corene Matyas, a tropical cyclone researcher at the University of Florida.

Flooding is the main problem affecting most people from the storms. With climate change the atmosphere now holds more moisture (because it’s warmer, on average), and that means there may be more water available for heavy rainfalls, Matyas said.

Cyclone Idai also had a loopy lifespan. It was born March 4th just off the coast in the very warm waters of the Mozambique Channel—a 250 mile-wide arm of the Indian Ocean between Mozambique and the island of Madagascar. Idai came ashore as a weak tropical storm in northern Mozambique and then wandered back out into the channel before doing a u-turn off the western coast of Madagascar March 11. It then made a beeline for its landfall at the city of Beira on the 15th.

“That kind of looping, unpredictable storm track isn’t uncommon for cyclones that start in the channel,” Matyas said.

Read the full article in National Geographic.

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Tropical Cyclone Idai Aims at Mozambique. Terra-MODIS image credit NASA Earth Observatory

The March12th NASA Earth Observatory Image of the Day was a Terra-MODIS image of Tropical Cyclone Idai, preparing to make landfall on Mozamique.

For help interpreting the image, NASA asked UF Geography Professor Dr. Corene Matyas to explain what was in the image:

“Several cyclones in the past have started over Mozambique and then moved over water and intensified into more organized systems, although this type of situation is not common,” said Corene Matyas, a researcher at University of Florida who has studied cyclones in this area. It is relatively common, however, to see cyclone tracks in the Mozambique Channel that meander and loop, due to weak steering currents.

Cyclones that form in the channel tend to be weaker than those that form over the Southwest Indian Ocean, north and east of Madagascar. But Matyas points out that regardless of where a cyclone forms, some have reached their highest intensity within a day before landfall. Tropical Cyclone Eline in February 2000, for example, passed over Madagascar and the Mozambique Channel, and then quickly intensified just before landfall in Mozambique.

“Keys to intensification are warm ocean waters to sufficient depth, the absence of strong winds in the upper troposphere, and being contained inside of a moist air mass,” Matyas said. “These conditions are all present right now.”

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