The impacts of cyclones Idai and Kenneth highlighted the need for far greater investment in Early Warning Systems in Mozambique. In March and April of 2019, the two cyclones made landfall in central and northern Mozambique causing widespread destruction, damage, and loss of life from strong winds, rainfall, and ensuing flooding. Cyclone Idai, a category 2 cyclone when it made landfall, was the deadliest storm ever to hit Africa and the largest humanitarian disaster of 2019, causing 1,300 deaths across southeastern Africa. Cyclone Kenneth, which made landfall a month later as a category 4 cyclone with wind gusts of 220 km/h, was the strongest cyclone to ever make landfall in Africa.
Tropical Depression 11, the precursor to Cyclone Idai, brought heavy rains to Mozambique, causing flooding in the Zambezi Valley (Tete and Zambezia Provinces) in early March. The storm however, didn’t stop there. Following an unusual path, it moved back out into the Mozambique Channel, where it rapidly intensified and then returned to land as Cyclone Idai, making landfall near the port city of Beira on March 15. Wind speeds of 180 km/h tore roofs off homes and buildings and pushed a storm surge of up to 6 meters into low-lying residential and agricultural areas. Over the next several days, Idai moved inland and into Zimbabwe, where it released torrential rains that caused downstream rivers in Manica and Sofala provinces in Mozambique to overflow forming an ‘inland ocean.’ While windspeed and landfall were accurately forecasted and warnings disseminated several days ahead of the storm, there was very limited warning about the floods. As a result, the impacts to communities from floodwaters were severe, with sudden flooding forcing people into trees and onto rooftops to escape floodwaters.
On April 25, Cyclone Kenneth made landfall in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, hitting an area already suffering from protracted conflict. While Kenneth weakened as it moved inland, the storm brought high winds, storm surge, heavy rains, and flooding that damaged or destroyed homes, caused power outages, and damaged key transportation routes and bridges across the province.
Several days in advance of Idai’s second landfall, the location of landfall and expected windspeeds were accurately known and agencies and communities in the storm path were on alert. This was supported by regional and global collaborative forecasting efforts; efforts which are well established and have been improving year on year. Cyclone Kenneth was equally well forecast. This type of technical capacity is a critical first step in early warning.
While Mozambique’s National Meteorology Institute (Instituto Nacional de Meteorologia, INAM) and the National Institute of Disaster Management (Instituto Nacional de Gestão de Calamidades, INGC) issued alerts and disseminated warning messages via TV, radio, and megaphones on cars, uptake and understanding of needed actions to take, as well as flood forecasting were less successful.