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Cyclone Chapala and Socotra

Cyclone Chapala and Socotra

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Monday, November 2, 2015/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, space science, sustainability, environment, climate change

Cyclone Chapala, 10-28 to 11-2, 2015 (credit: Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System, GADCS )

The island of Socotra, located in the Arabian Sea, has taken a heavy hit from Cyclone Chapala . Remote in the best of times, the archipelago of 3 islands is more closely connected geologically, biologically, and sociologically to Africa but is part of Yemen. Socotra was known to the Greek historian, Herodotus, as the 'land of the dragon's blood' because a valued coloring was found only there. In more recent times, the islands have been referred to as "the botanical Galapagos" for the many endemic plants found growing there and nowhere else on Earth. 

        Cyclone Chapala approaches, Socotra, Yemen, and Oman (credit: World Meteorology Organization)

What made Cyclone Chapala so impressive was how rapidly it developed from a tropical storm into a massive hurricane. High water temperatures in the Indian Ocean allowed moisture uptake from the sea that fueled the storm. A cyclone of this magnitude may not have occurred in this region for more than a century. It was easily seen by the International Space Station as it flew over the swirling mass.

          Cyclone Chapala seen from the International Space Station, 10-31-15 (credit: NASA/Scott Kelly)

According to NOAA satellite measurements, nearly 8" of rain fell in less than 24 hours in this hyper-arid region   of Yemen and Oman. The average for the coastal zone is typically under 5" a year so this volume represents four to five times the yearly average. In some locations, Chapala dumped as much as a decade's worth of rainf in less than 3 days.

Consequences of the hurricane force wind and rain included extensive flooding and damage to settlements in the poor region of Yemen. What happened to Socotra's strange trees and botanical wonderland as the "dragon" roared across the unique island is so far not known.

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