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A Rare and Powerful Tropical Storm Is Descending on Al Qaeda in Yemen

The storm, which has already killed three people, is projected to dump three to four times the country's annual rainfall in just a day or two.
Photo by Scott Kelly/NASA/EPA

In the next day, a rare and fierce tropical storm will move inland off the Arabian Sea, likely dumping three to four years' worth of annual rainfall on the war torn country of Yemen.

Cyclone Chapala has already killed three people and injured nine others as it passed over the island of Socotra, 200 miles southeast of mainland Yemen, on Sunday. Described as the strongest cyclone to hit the island in over 100 years, Chapala prompted the evacuation of 9,000 people from the provincial capital of Hadibo, according to the Associated Press.


The storm is now headed northwest, towards the al Qaeda-held port of al Mukalla, the fifth-largest Yemeni city with a population of 300,000. Boasting winds of 120 miles per hour, the storm is now classified as a Category 3 hurricane.

While the cyclone is expected to lose steam as it hits the mainland, weakening to a Category 1 storm, heavy rains could bring flooding and landslides to the arid country. On Monday, the World Meteorological Organization reported that the "extremely severe cyclonic storm" should hit al Mukalla overnight, "bringing intense rainfall to an arid area with no experience or infrastructure to cope with tropical cyclones."

— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites)November 2, 2015

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As Chapala enters the Gulf of Aden, the storm is expected to dump upwards of 20 inches of rain on al Mukalla. Average rainfall in southern Yemen is two inches or less. A relatively weak cyclone hit the Yemeni coastline in 2008, according to Weather Underground, causing the deaths of 180 people.

The abnormally strong cyclone will run aground in a country enveloped by a brutal civil war that has killed more than 5,400 people and displaced another 1.5 million since March. For the past seven months, a Houthi-led faction, backed by Iran, and a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia have been vying for control of the Middle Eastern nation.


Government authorities have largely abandoned al Mukalla, which was seized by al Qaeda in mid-April. As Chapala nears Yemen's fifth-largest city, the power vacuum has led to growing concerns about the response to the impending storm.

"Many people have left their homes and are seeking refuge in schools," resident Muhammed Ba Zuhair told Reuters. "No relief or aid efforts are under way by either the tribal council or al Qaeda, and the situation is really bad."

The ongoing conflict has led to a fuel shortage and, according to Weather Underground meteorologist Jonathan Erdman, has severely impacted communication infrastructure across the country, making it nearly impossible to monitor the storm once it hits the mainland.

Erdman reported that the eight weather observation sites in Yemen should have sent a collective 124 reports during the month of October. Six, however, did not send a single report, while the other two sent a combined 14 of the expected 124.

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