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Cyclone Chapala On Track To Batter Yemen

This satellite image captured by NASA on Saturday shows Tropical Cyclone Chapala when it was east northeast of Socotra Island, Yemen.
This satellite image captured by NASA on Saturday shows Tropical Cyclone Chapala when it was east northeast of Socotra Island, Yemen.

A rare cyclone battered the isolated Yemeni island of Socotra on Monday and then headed for the mainland. According to The Weather Channel, Cyclone Chapala could dump three to four times the average yearly rainfall in parts of Yemen in just one or two days.

Chapala was expected to make landfall in Yemen at roughly 1 a.m. ET on Tuesday, according to the World Meteorological Association, the United Nations' weather agency.

According to Michael Lowry, a hurricane specialist at The Weather Channel, this is just the third hurricane-strength landfall on record to hit the Arabian Peninsula.

As it passed over Socotra, the storm killed one person and injured nine more, local security officials told The Associated Press. The island is home to about 50,000 people who speak their own language; many earn their living from fishing. The storm is expected to next hit the Yemeni port town of Al Mukalla, where it could unleash deadly mudslides and flash flooding. As the World Meteorological Organization reported Friday, "It is highly unlikely that the natural water courses and drainage systems would be able to cope with this amount of rain."

Cyclones and flooding are a rarity in the Arabian Peninsula. In Yemen, water scarcity has been singled out as a reason for the country's history of political unrest. For most of the past year, a civil war between Yemen's government-in-exile (it is currently residing in Saudi Arabia) and Shiite rebels called Houthis has racked the country. According to a report on NPR's Here & Now, more than 2,300 civilians have been killed in the course of the war. Reuters reports that some residents are concerned the power vacuum means there is no public entity to provide emergency aid to storm victims.

The storm is called a cyclone rather than a hurricane or typhoon because of where it formed. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in the Atlantic and Northeast pacific, it would be called a hurricane. In the South Pacific and Indian Ocean it is called a typhoon or cyclone. A report released earlier this year predicted that global warming could raise the probability of intense tropical storms in the Arabian Sea.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.