There is a new area of interest in the South
Tropical cyclones are not uncommon in the South and South West Indian ocean but rarely do ones come as close to making South African landfall as Tropical Cyclone Eline did. Eline started out as a consolidating area of low pressure to the far east of Madagascar and about 2500 km east of Mauritius on the 8 February 2000, typically with tropical cyclones that form in this vicinity they progress towards the south west and then turn south as they encounter weaknesses in the high pressure ridge. The SSTs (sea surface temperatures) were as high as 29’C providing plenty fuel for the cyclone to gain intensity.
The storm was placed above a strong ridge of high pressure and continued to track west for several days. On 17 February 2000 the storm was located at near the east coast of Madagascar, with forecast models showing that the storm would continue in a generally westerly direction, by this time tropical Tropical Cyclone Eline was an extremely strong storm with wind gusts up to 250 km/h, putting the town of Mahanoro in danger of very destructive winds.
Eline then passed over Madagascar, and while as usual Madagascar weakened the storm, the storm slowed down while in the Mozambique Channel and regained some of it’s strength. By the early morning hours of 22 February Tropical Cyclone Eline was located less than 100 km from Beira, Mozambique. As can be expected with a slow moving storm, the seas were rough and the storm gave way for a potential in storm surge. Eline was moving at just 10 km/h and made landfall on the afternoon of the 22 February. Beira encountered winds of near 110 km/h with gusts around 150km/h with most damage taking place along the coast. Rainfall totals from Beira were confusing, with reports of under 20mm of rain for the day of landfall, while Inhambane rainfall totals to the south were in excess of 100mm, the accuracy of the Beira readings may be questionable given that while the outer bands of a cyclone can drop more rain than the core, 17.6mm is far below the average to be expected near the eye of a cyclone, especially one with such a cold eyewall.
For the next few days Eline would not only bring rainfall to Mozambique but also to Zimbabwe and even South Africa, and in fact would influence several southern African countries for weeks. Rainfall totals for a 5 day period exceeded 450mm in places and monthly totals for February were as high as 1200mm, nearly 10 times above the averages for the given location. The remnant low of Eline would move very slowly to the south west and continue to draw moisture down from north, and continued to bring heavy rain for an extended period of time.
Damage was widespread with half a million people in Mozambique being left homeless due to both the direct rainfall of Eline and the overflowing rivers caused by the cyclone. In South Africa alone the damage approached R2 billion as floods had damages numerous roads and bridges in the northern parts, as well as the farming crops which were destroyed in the Northern Province.
South Africa is not too familiar with tropical cyclones as they tend to either make landfall to the north or they tend to move south, though given the right synoptic setup and the right sea surface temperatures it’s very possible for a tropical cyclone to make impact along the Kwazulu Natal coast.