Cii News | 06 Safar 1437/19 November 2015
As wars, conflict, death and suffering continue to be the major defining characteristics of large parts of the Middle East today, this month has witnessed several unusual natural phenomena being witnessed in the region that have made a reading into current developments all the more curious. Read on to discover the occurrences that have left more than a fair share of people utterly perplexed.
The Yemeni Cyclone – Rain of a year in a day
It is hard to imagine the words “tropical cyclone” and “Arabian Peninsula” ever appearing in the same sentence.
This anomaly however came to fruition on Tuesday November 3, 2015 when Cyclone Chapala made an extremely rare landfall along the Gulf of Aden coast of Yemen, triggering massive rainfall flooding in a desert location unaccustomed to tropical cyclone landfalls.
According to the India Meteorological Department, the agency sanctioned by the World Meteorological Organization for issuing official tropical cyclone bulletins for the Arabian Sea, the center of Chapala made landfall about 44 miles (71 kilometers) southwest of Al Mukalla, Yemen.
At that time, IMD estimated the cyclone’s maximum sustained winds from 75-80 mph (120-130 kph), a Category 1 equivalent storm on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, the first such intensity landfall in southern Yemen in at least 55 years.
Chapala’s core of hurricane-force winds passed near, or just west of Yemen’s fifth largest city, the coastal, war-ravaged port of Al Mukalla, with a population of roughly 300,000.
IMD promptly downgraded Chapala to a tropical storm in the hours immediately after landfall.
While battering waves and coastal flooding hammered the coast, perhaps the most severe impact in Yemen was due to torrential rainfall.
Torrential rain triggered major flooding in parts of Yemen. Social media photos showed feet of fast-moving flood water inundating parts of the city of Al Mukalla, as well as surrounding areas.
The south coast of Yemen is fronted by hills and mountains. Rivers running from these mountains that are normally dry, known locally as wadis, saw rapid rises with rainfall of this magnitude, with destructive mudslides and debris flows.
Persistent rainbands from Chapala slamming into those mountains may have produced rainfall totals over 200 millimeters (about 7.87 inches) in just 24 hours, according to satellite rainfall estimates from NOAA.
A separate NASA-IMERG satellite analysis estimated 12-20 inches of rain soaked Socotra Island, while 5-15 inches of rain fell in southern coastal Yemen near the landfall of Chapala’s center. Some weather models showed peak accumulations of 400 mm (16 in) or more.
This is over 2 to 7 times the average yearly rain in just a day or two over parts of south coastal Yemen. Average rainfall along the southern Yemeni coast is 2 inches (50 millimeters) or less, according to the University of Texas’ Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection. Areas in the region received 610 mm (24 in) of rainfall over 48 hours, or 700% of the average yearly precipitation.
These figures too may also be underestimates as we may never know, exactly how much rain falls or how strong the winds blew with Chapala, due to inadequate weather reporting from Yemen.
Yemen has been beset by violent conflict in recent years, disrupting the electrical grid and communication networks across the country. As a result, weather observations most of us take for granted are nearly non-existent.
Yemen has eight official synoptic weather observation sites, charged with reporting weather conditions at least once every six hours. Each site should have submitted 124 six-hourly reports in October, but six of them sent none at all, one site sent just one observation, and the other eked out just 13 of its 124 required reports.
Furthermore, much of the region expected to take a direct hit is already in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. According to the United Nations, the area expected to take a direct hit (the governorate of Hadramaut) is already at “crisis” level, with 106,900 residents displaced by war and conflict.
Most of the areas to the west of Hadramaut are classified in an even more dire ”emergency” status, with widespread food shortages and more than 2 million people displaced from their homes. More than 500,000 children are believed to be at risk of severe acute malnutrition, according to the U.N.
The last time there were reports of severe cyclonic storms” – those with winds of at least 55 mph – in this part of the world was way back in May 1959 and May 1960.
Considering its wind speeds and trajectory, Chapala, say meteorologists, is the strongest tropical cyclone to be experienced so far south in the Arabian Sea on record. It is also reportedly the most powerful storm known to have existed in the Gulf of Aden.
In the wake of the tragedy, Yemen’s internationally recognized government, which controls most of the country’s south, announced the suspension of schools in four governorates: Hadhramaut, Socotra, Al Mahrah and Shabwah. Evacuations were ordered in Al Mukalla and Hadhramaut.Most people sheltered in public buildings like schools or hospitals, or stayed with relatives. Fears of damage and loss of life were compounded by the power vacuum in areas controlled by al-Qaeda—the Yemeni Army and Government withdrew from areas in April—particularly the port city of Al Mukalla where approximately 300,000 people live.
Residents in Al Mukalla took shelter in schools as the storm caused the sea level to rise by 9 m (30 ft), destroying the city’s seafront. Early reports indicated that at least 450 homes were damaged or destroyed in the Yemen mainland, forcing at least 44,000 people to leave their homes. The storm also caused eight deaths – five by drowning and three from collapsed homes. About 40 additional people were injured.
Chapala was also the first hurricane-force storm to impact on the adjoining island of Socotra since 1922. Initial reports indicated that three people were killed and at least 200 others sustained injuries on the island, however it was later indicated that there were no deaths on the island. Residents reported rainfall to be the most severe in decades. At least 237 homes were destroyed by the storm, possibly as many as 400, forcing about 18,000 people to leave their homes. Northeastern areas of the island were rendered inaccessible due to flooding. The Yemeni Government declared a state of emergency for the archipelago shortly after the storm’s passage.
Yet another cyclone made landfall in Socotra island days later, causing panic as a minister posted an “urgent appeal” to save residents from the second tropical storm in a week.
At least two people were killed and dozens injured, a government source said.
Freak Saudi Storm: Rivers of Ice in the Desert
At around the same time that the horror winds were encircling Yemen, Saudi Arabia was being hit by unprecedented ice flash floods, as seasonal low pressure brought huge downpours to Iraq and Iran as well.
Terrifying footage has captured the moment hailstones the size of golf balls rained down on Saudi Arabia, causing deadly ice flash floods .
In the clip, huge chunks of ice are seen falling from the sky before a river of hail washes through a valley at terrifying speed.
Extreme weather conditions had been battering the country since October 28 as the low pressure area concentrated over the northern part of the Persian Gulf, according to climate scientist Dr Abd al-Aziz al-Rubaie, as cited by thewatchers.com.
Meteorologists predicted eight years of rain in just two days over the Arabian Sea .
As of October 30, 19 people across the region had been killed. In Saudi Arabia, the floods claimed at least six lives.
Among the dead were a mother and her two children, who drowned in Shuaib Valley, 10 km west of Tareef.
Maj. Fahad Al-Asmar, Northern Border Civil Defense spokesman, was quoted as saying in a local publication that the administration received a report at 11:25 p.m. about a missing family.
“Search teams and divers moved immediately to the site pointed out by the father, and found the car with his wife and two children dead inside,” said Al-Asmar.
Civil Defense teams are also searching for the bodies of two children swept out of their father’s car in another valley. The teams had rescued the father and two of his other children from his car, which had overturned several times because of the powerful floodwaters.
Residents said they have not seen such heavy rainfall in over 30 years. Many people had gone out to picnic in the valleys to enjoy the rainfall despite warnings by the Civil Defense that there was a danger of flooding in these areas.
Al-Jouf Civil Defense spokesman Lt. Atallah Al-Rouwaili said the region’s operations room received more than 50 reports of stranded individuals and vehicles.
Jamal Al-Oufaisan, director of Al-Qurayyat’s health department, said all hospitals have been placed on alert to treat people injured because of the bad weather.
Unverified video footage has also emerged of a fast moving river of sand and water, also reportedly caused by a storm in Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter
Black death: Mass Swarms of insects attack Peshmerga
The Peshmerga are the military forces of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. The Peshmerga forces are responsible for defending the land, people and institutions of the Kurdistan Region, a region which is surprisingly keen to cemment ties with Israel.
Following an unexpected large-scale ISIS offensive against Iraqi Kurdistan in August 2014, peshmerga and other Kurdish forces from neighboring countries have been waging an all-out-war against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria.
And whilst they claim they are not afraid of ISIS, the peshmerga appear to be helpless in tackling a far smaller enemy of another breed.
“The Peshmerga are now facing a new and terrifying threat – a 7km-wide swarm of black beetles,” the Independent reported recently.
Thousands of the insects have reportedly invaded the military outposts, field hospitals and living areas on the frontline against the so-called “Islamic State”.
According to a report on the Kurdish media network Rudaw, swarms of black beetles have spread across Peshmerga territory around Tel Askof in the Nineveh Province of Iraq.
Videos posted online showed beetles crawling throughout the sleeping quarters of the Kurdish fighters, as well as in and around the areas where they are preparing food.
“We are not afraid of Isis, but we have problems with these insects,” one fighter says on camera.
Jalal Mohammed, a Peshmerga fighter, told Rudaw: “It is horrible.
“We cannot even take a rest,” he said. “We cannot have our meals. If they are not stopped, then they might get to the town [Tel Askof].”
Speaking on camera, Kurdish military officials reportedly said the swarm was being reported across a 7km stretch of the Peshmerga frontlines – an unprecedented infestation which has come with serious health ramifications.
Mohammed said the soldiers had called for a medical team to assess the situation, but fellow fighters said it would not be allowed to affect the fight against Isis.
Mohammed Hussein told the network: “We are not in a good health condition [due to the beetles], but this cannot affect our morale. We will keep on fighting [the Isis militants].”
For some, reports on the swarm has evoked imagery of the infestation of locusts mentioned in the Qur’aan – one of the Divine punishments afflicted upon an errant Bani Israeel.
Mention is made of how swarms of locusts emerged from all nooks and corners at the time, eating up all the crops and gardens of the Bani Israeel. They even ate the woods of their houses. The houses of Pharaoh’s followers were full with locusts and it made their life miserable, but the fields and gardens of the believers of Banu Israil were safe and sound from the invasion of these locusts.
The Quraan chronicles this Divine Chastisement in Surah A’raf(7:133) – “So We sent upon them the flood and locusts and lice and frogs and blood as distinct signs, but they were arrogant and were a criminal people”