By Pedram Javaheri, CNN Meteorologist
Tropical Cyclone Gombe is expected to rapidly intensify over the next 24 hours, growing to the equivalent of a major hurricane before making landfall Friday in northern Mozambique.
Gombe is forecast to soak northern Mozambique from Friday through Sunday with as much as 250 to 350 mm (10 to 14 inches) of rain, which could lead to flash flooding. The city of Nampula, home to over 750,000 people, could see several months’ worth of rainfall this weekend.
The storm on Thursday is across the northern Mozambique Channel, in a region with conditions that could make it stronger.
“Global lightning data shows an increased inner-core lightning activity, all of which indicates the system continues to intensify and suggests that the system will soon develop an actual eye feature and commence rapid intensification,” the Joint Typhoon Warning Center wrote Thursday.
A storm like this undergoes rapid intensification when its maximum sustained winds increase at least 35 mph in 24 hours or less, according to the National Hurricane Center. That’s a jump of about two categories on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which grades hurricane strength from 1 to 5.
Gombe has already made history
Gombe made history Monday after making landfall across northern Madagascar.
The system became the fifth cyclone to impact the island nation in the past seven weeks, tying the record for the most landfalling cyclones in Madagascar in one season (set in 1983/1984). On average, Madagascar records about one landfalling Category 1-equivalent storm or greater each season.
Now, the cyclone is forecast to bring more devastating impacts to Mozambique. Models suggest Gombe could reach sustained winds of 115 mph at landfall, equivalent to a major hurricane of Category 3 strength.
Storms of this magnitude reaching Mozambique are exceedingly rare, which sees only one landfalling tropical cyclone equivalent to Category 1 strength on average every nine years. Only five tropical cyclones of Category 3 strength or greater have made landfall in Mozambique since 1934, NOAA’s Historical Hurricane Tracks database shows.
Perhaps not surprisingly due to the recent increase in tropical activity amid a warming climate, all five of those major cyclones have occurred since 2000, with two of them making landfall in 2019. Cyclones Idai and Kenneth made landfall in March and April 2019, both equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane, leaving behind a trail of destruction unlike any seen by a tropical system in the southwest Indian Ocean.
The storms killed over 600 people and left 2.5 million people in need of humanitarian services, according to UNICEF.
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CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller and Judson Jones contributed to this report