Tropical Cyclone Gati struck the arid nation of Somalia on Sunday as the equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane with 105 mph winds, making it the strongest storm on record to hit the country. The cyclone made landfall after undergoing an extraordinary period of rapid intensification, which may have set a record for the entire Indian Ocean basin, at one point attaining the strength equivalent to a Category 3 storm, with 115 mph maximum sustained winds.
Its landfall was farther south than any major hurricane-equivalent cyclone on record in that part of the world as well.
At least four people were reported dead from Gati, according to the Puntland Mirror. Landfall occurred near Xaafuun, a small community about 900 miles northeast of Mogadishu, where the land juts east near the northern tip of the country. Hordio and Ashira, both desert communities, were also directly affected by the core of the storm.
A broad four to eight inches of rainfall accompanied the system through northern Somalia, the driest part of the country, drenching desert regions with a year or two’s worth of rainfall in just a matter of hours to a couple of days. Rains also swept through the Gulf of Aden and brushed up against Yemen.
On Saturday evening, Gati had just surpassed the 39 mph threshold of tropical storm status, churning west toward Somalia. Overnight, though, its winds increased to 45 mph, and a bout of extremely rapid intensification quickly ensued. As the sun rose Sunday, winds were at 115 mph, marking a 70 mph increase in six hours.
A contributor to Gati’s rapid intensification was its small size, which allowed the storm to respond quickly to changes in the surrounding environment and hastily gain strength.
Sam Lillo, a postdoctoral researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), noted that Gati’s rate of strengthening is unheard of not only for the western Arabian Sea but for the entire Indian Ocean. Two other cyclones on record had jumped by 65 mph in 12 hours. Both of those storms did so in the Bay of Bengal, where the ocean basin’s strongest storms are typically located.
Even more impressive is the fact that Gani reached its maximum intensity at 10.3 degrees north, farther south than any other Indian Ocean cyclone on record.
Residents in coastal Somalia may have been caught off guard by the ferocity of the storm, unmatched by any other system in Somali history. Winds of 62 to 69 mph were predicted in a joint forecast issued by the Somalia Water and Land Information Management and the United Nations.
“Destruction of property and infrastructure including roads, buildings and boats due to the strong winds” was also anticipated. The bulletin urged fishermen and mariners, industries which comprise the majority of Somalia’s coastal economy, to evacuate the water and move inland.
In a display of elegance and discomfiting natural power, Gati was one of two tropical systems pinwheeling through the western Indian Ocean simultaneously. A second well-formed whirl, probably a tropical depression, orbited Gati to the east. The interaction between the two tempests played a role in helping steer Gati farther to the south, driving it directly into northern Somalia on an atypical route.
Gati is the latest storm globally to rapidly intensify, a term reserved for tropical cyclones that spike in strength by 35 mph or more in 24 hours. Gati did so at double the rate needed to qualify for rapid intensification.
Ten storms rapidly intensified during the Atlantic’s record 2020 hurricane season, complicating forecast efforts since a number of them continued intensifying through landfall, resulting in them hitting a peak intensity.
One storm in the Atlantic rivaled Cyclone Gati, as Hurricane Iota intensified at the astonishing rate of 80 mph in 24 hours before slamming into the coast of northeastern Nicaragua late Monday night.
Scientists say rapid intensification is happening more frequently, as storms are given a turbo boost from rising ocean temperatures. During the Atlantic hurricane season, the waters of the Atlantic have been unusually mild, the result of human-caused global warming superimposed atop natural climate cycles.
According to Kerry Emanuel, a hurricane scientist at MIT, rapidly intensifying storms provide a warning: The increasing tendency for hurricanes to rapidly intensify is a better gauge for how climate change is influencing them rather than how strong they ultimately get.
Based on recent peer-reviewed studies he co-wrote, NOAA meteorologist Jim Kossin said it’s clear that the odds of a storm rapidly intensifying have increased compared with what they were just a few decades ago. While this is particularly the case in the Atlantic, where there is more accurate data kept about such storms, such trends are probably being seen in other ocean basins as well.