Chapala, now the unprecedented 23rd category 4 or category 5 tropical cyclone to form during 2015, is bearing down on the nation of Yemen. A nation that is likely to experience hurricane force winds and may receive as much as 8 years worth of rainfall from Chapala’s intense spiral bands over a 24-48 hour period.
After a rapid bombification on Friday, Cyclone Chapala became the most intense storm on record to form so far south in the Indian Ocean. Like Patricia, this storm gathered strength in waters that were much hotter than normal (+1 to +2 C above average for the region). Like Patricia, the storm rapidly intensified in a single 24 hour period — gaining 90 mph of wind intensity in just one day. And like the 5 billion dollar weather event that was Patricia, Chapala threatens severe damage along its likely land-falling path. A hothouse storm for a hothouse world that in 2015 has seen the previous record for the rate of formation of the most intense tropical cyclones shattered by five storms so far this year. The previous record, set in 2004 was for 18 such storms over a one year period. Now, the new record is 23 and counting.
Chapala is expected to track west-by-northwest, weakening to a category 1 or 2 storm just before making landfall in Yemen on Monday. At that point the storm is predicted to dump as much as 12 to 16 inches of rain over parts of Yemen. If this happens as current weather models predict, parts of Yemen which typically receive less than 2 inches of rain per year may see as much as 8 years or more worth of rain fall over the course of a day or two.
(Chapala’s predicted path and intensity brings an unprecedented rain-maker to Yemen. One that is capable of delivering as much as 8 years worth of rainfall in 1-2 days. Image source: Joint Typhoon Warning Center.)
Large, powerful storms of this kind do not typically track into Yemen. And the predicted and possible rainfall amounts would almost certainly shatter all-time records for the arid state. A potential event that Dr. Jeff Masters over at WeatherUnderground yesterday called unprecedented. Such heavy rains would hit a region that is not at all equipped for dealing with so much water falling from the skies. Dry lands that form a hard baked surface will tend to enhance pooling and run-off. Regions that typically see extreme flooding from just 1 or 2 inches of rainfall could see 5 to 10 times as much. Needless to say, this is a developing and dangerous situation that bears careful monitoring.
Conditions in Context — Powerful Hurricanes in a Hothouse World
2015 will close out as the hottest year in the 135 year climate record. It will hit temperatures, globally, about 1.1 to 1.2 C hotter than 1880s averages. This extreme temperature departure, is nearly 1/3 of the difference between 1880 and the last ice age — but on the side of hot. An extreme heating that is starting to force the glaciers of the world to rapidly melt, the seas to rapidly rise, the oceans to rapidly decline in health, and climates around the world to rapidly destabilize.
The oceans of the world draw in more than 90 percent of this excess heat energy. The added energy at the ocean surface, in its turn, provides more fuel for the most intense category 4 and category 5 tropical cyclones. These storms draw their energy directly from heat and moisture at the ocean surface. So as we, through our burning of fossil fuels and emitting of greenhouse gasses which in turn warms the climate, are unwittingly both increasing the frequency of strong storms as well as adding to their maximum potential energy.
During recent years, we have seen greater and greater numbers of the most intense versions of these storms globally. During 2004 a new record number for category 4 and 5 cyclones was breached, only to be supplanted this year with the formation, so far, of 23 of these monster cyclones. In addition, the number of records for most intense storms for regions seems to be falling at an increasing rate. In 2013, cyclone Haiyan, roared into the record books as one of the most intense storms the world had ever seen. And this year we have two all-time basin records — Patricia and Chapala.
The human hothouse, thus appears to be providing more storms of high intensity. And with more warming in store — with nations, corporations, and politicians continuing to fight to delay climate action, ever more dangerous storms are coming.