THERE is often the assumption that cyclones are new to Southern Africa.
However, the Chopi people of Mozambique, which bears the brunt of most cyclones (particularly eastern Mozambique), that emanate in the south-west Indian Ocean, referred to tropical cyclones as ‘God’s Whip’; the Shona of Munhumutapa referred to them as ‘Shamu yaMwari’.
My grandmother called them chamupupuri chemvura.
In sub-Saharan Africa, at least 30 tropical cyclones have been recorded on the Southern African coast and mainland.
Besides Zimbabwe, inland countries that have experienced tropical cyclones over the years include Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia and Zambia as well as three south-eastern countries that border the Indian Ocean: Tanzania (a cyclone was recorded in Zanzibar and Bagamoyo in April 1872); Mozambique; and South Africa.
A tropical storm was recorded in Southern Africa on February 15 1950.
It struck eastern Mozambique after crossing Madagascar; moved across much of Southern Africa, and eventually reached northern Namibia.
On April 15 1952, the strongest cyclone on record, with sustained maximum winds estimated at 180km/h, moved ashore in south-eastern Tanzania near Lindi and left 34 fatalities.
On January 28 1984, Tropical Storm Domoina struck south-eastern Mozambique. It later crossed into Swaziland and eastern South Africa.
In Mozambique, Tropical Storm Domoina killed 109 people and caused about US$75 million in damage. Rainfall in Swaziland reached 906mm in some areas. Damages totalled US$54 million, with 73 deaths.
In South Africa, rainfall peaked at 950mm, causing unprecedented floods along the Umfolozi River; the Pongola River altered its course after the storm while the Pongolapoort Dam reached 87 percent capacity.
When waters were released to maintain the Dam’s structural integrity, further flooding resulted in Mozambique, forcing thousands of people to evacuate.
Tropical Storm Domoina caused 60 deaths and damaged 500 000 people’s properties across South Africa.
The same year, on February 19 1984, Tropical Storm Imboa looped off the east coast of South Africa causing flooding which killed four people in that country.
Since Tropical Storm Domoina and Imboa in the 1980s, metrological statistics show that the number of tropical storms affecting Southern Africa has steadily increased.
Sixteen tropical storms were recorded in the 2000s; 13 in the 2010s; and eight, to date, in 2020s.
Tropical storms/cyclones that affected Southern Africa in 2000s included:
– Tropical Storm Astride was previously a tropical depression, which struck north-eastern Mozambique on January 3 2000 and produced rainfall as far inland as Malawi.
– On February 22 2000, Cyclone Elaine slammed ashore near Beira, Mozambique. It was the country’s worst natural disaster in a century. Water levels along the Limpopo River reached 11m above normal and 15km wide.
The combined effects of the preceding floods and Cyclone Elaine left about
300 000 people homeless, about 700 deaths and damage estimated at US$500 million. It retarded the economic progress Mozambique had made in the 1990s since the end of its civil war.
In Zimbabwe, Cyclone Elaine washed away transportation infrastructure and killed 12 people, while 21 in South Africa. Heavy rainfall occurred as far inland as Namibia.
– Rains from former Tropical Storm Gloria, on March 8 2000, disrupted aid distribution in Mozambique following Tropical Storm Elaine’s deadly landfall two weeks earlier.
– On April 2 2000, Cyclone Hudah made landfall in north-eastern Mozambique near Antalaha. It was the first time on record that two storms of tropical cyclone intensity struck the country.
It killed three people and damaged hundreds of homes. On April 11 2000, a sub-tropical depression approached the Mozambique coast near Inhambane, resulting in over 93mm of rainfall over 48 hours.
– A tropical depression, on March 8 2001, brushed the east coast of Mozambique and later intensified into Tropical Cyclone Dera in the Mozambique Channel. On December 30 2001, the forerunner to Tropical Storm Cyprian developed over eastern Mozambique, bringing rainfall; it later became a tropical storm in the Mozambique Channel.
– Tropical Depression Atang moved ashore near the border of Mozambique and Tanzania on November 12 2002, bringing torrential rains.
– Tropical Storm Delfina struck eastern Mozambique on December 31 2002. It drifted over land for the next few days until re-emerging in the Mozambique Channel on January 6 2003.
The heavy rainfall reached 281mm; causing flooding that damaged or destroyed more than 20 000 houses and killed 47 people in Mozambique and eight in neighbouring Malawi.
– Cyclone Japhet struck Mozambique near Vilankulo on March 2 2003, where wind gusts reached 105km/h.
Across the country, Cyclone Japhet damaged or destroyed 25 000 houses and killed 17 people.
Another eight deaths were reported in Zambia.
Other south-west Indian Ocean cyclones recorded during the periods included: Cyclone Elita on January 26 2004; a tropical disturbance (October 29 2004); Tropical Storm Anita (November 30 2006); Cyclone Favio struck southern Mozambique after passing south of Madagascar (February 22 2007); Tropical Storm Elnus (December 29 2007); Cyclone Jokwe (March 8 2008); The remnants of Tropical Storm Asma (October 24 2008); and Tropical Storm Izilda (March 27 2009).
Cyclones that affected south-eastern Africa in 2010s included:
– January 17 2012: Sub-tropical Depression Dando struck southern Mozambique, bringing heavy rainfall across the region. The storm killed four people in Mozambique and another six in South Africa.
– January 21 2012: Cyclone Funso looped off the east coast of Mozambique.
The torrential rains killed 21 people in the country. Rains also extended into Malawi.
– March 6 2012:Tropical Storm Irina looped off south-eastern Africa, causing 12 deaths between Mozambique and South Africa.
– February 16 2013: The precursor to Cyclone Haruna moved across north-eastern Mozambique.
– January 20 2014: Former Tropical Storm Deliwe struck eastern Mozambique.
– January 31 2014: A tropical disturbance moved ashore eastern Mozambique.
– February 17 2014: The precursor to Tropical Storm Guito developed over north-eastern Mozambique.
– March 26 2014: Heavy rainfall from developing Cyclone Hellen over north-eastern Mozambique killed four people. The remnants of the storm later struck south-central Mozambique.
– January 14 2015: The precursor to Tropical Storm Chiedza produced flooding rains across south-eastern Africa.
– April 27 2016: The remnants of Cyclone Fantala produced flooding in Tanzania that killed 13 people and washed away 315 houses. Rainfall from the storm spread northwards into Kenya, causing flooding.
– February 15 2017: Cyclone Dineo struck central Mozambique, causing flooding that extended into Zimbabwe and Malawi. It killed seven people in Mozambique and 251 people in Zimbabwe.
– January 15 2018: Tropical Depression Four struck north-eastern Mozambique and spread over the country. The heavy rainfall killed 11 people.
– January 17 2019: A tropical low formed over Mozambique and later intensified into Tropical Storm Desmond in the Mozambique Channel, which struck southern Mozambique a few days later. It dropped heavy rainfall along its path.
– March 4 2019: A tropical depression moved ashore in Mozambique, and later moved into the Mozambique Channel, strengthening into Cyclone Idai. The intense tropical cyclone made landfall near Beira and weakened as it moved into Zimbabwe. The cyclone killed 1 302 people across Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, making it the second-deadliest tropical cyclone on record in the Southern Hemisphere, behind the 1973 Flores Cyclone in Indonesia. Cyclone Idai caused widespread and disruptive flooding, with monetary damage estimated at US$2,2 billion. The storm also led to a cholera outbreak across the region.
Manicaland was particularly hit hard by Cyclone Idai. Some evacuated families have resisted relocation, insisting on rebuilding their homes in areas affected by one of the worst tropical cyclones on record in Africa.
Over 35 tropical cyclones have affected the southern-eastern region of Africa in the last 23 years.
Dr Michelina Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant and is a published author in her field. For comments e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org