Tropical Cyclone Enawo to Strengthen and Strike Madagascar Tuesday

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Tropical Cyclone Enawo is expected to strengthen in the southern Indian Ocean, then threaten Madagascar with its strongest tropical cyclone landfall in three years.

The highest cloud tops, corresponding to the most vigorous convection, are shown in the brightest red colors. Clustering, deep convection around the center is a sign of a healthy tropical cyclone.

Currently the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane, Enawo is several hundred miles east-northeast of the northeast coast of Madagascar.

Enawo is expected to move into a favorable environment featuring...

  • Low wind shear, or little change in wind direction or speed with height that allows thunderstorms to remain tightly clustered near the center of circulation.
  • Warm sea-surface temperatures, providing heat and low-level moisture to power the cyclone's thunderstorms.
  • Winds spreading apart near the tops of thunderstorms, helping the low-pressure center to intensify.

This may allow Enawo to strengthen to the equivalent of a major hurricane with winds over 111 mph over the next couple of days.

A strengthening area of high-pressure aloft to the southeast of Enawo should steer this intensifying tropical cyclone toward the northeast coast of Madagascar by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Forecast Track

Similar to Hurricane Matthew in the Atlantic in 2016, mere miles could mean the difference between tropical storm force winds coming ashore and much stronger hurricane-force winds coming ashore.

The devil will be in the details, but this track forecast could have large implications on impacts to the region. 

Storm surge flooding, damaging winds and dangerous surf are threats near and along the northeast coast of Madagascar starting Tuesday. Downed trees, structural damage to homes, and power outages may be widespread in these areas.

Enawo will also bring heavy rainfall to this mountainous island. Much of the east coast will likely see in excess of 6 inches of rain. Mountainous locations, especially east and northeast-facing slopes, may pick up well over a foot of total rain.

Forecast Rainfall

This could trigger life-threatening flash flooding and mud/rockslides. This flash flood threat could extend south into the capital of Antananarivo (population estimated around 1.4 million), and could linger into much of the week ahead, particularly if Enawo slows down as it curls southward over the island. 

Remember, rainfall potential of a tropical cyclone is largely a function of its forward speed, not its intensity.

According to Dr. Phil Klotzbach, activity in February in the Indian Ocean was at its third lowest level on record. February is typically a peak month for hurricane-strength systems in that basin.

So far, the southwest Indian Ocean has seen six cyclones that reached tropical depression organization and two hurricane-strength systems.

The southwestern Indian Ocean typically sees about 9-10 tropical cyclones each year, while 4-5 of these become hurricane strength systems. 

The last tropical cyclone of at least hurricane strength to landfall in Madagascar was Hellen on March 31, 2014.

Only two hurricane-strength tropical cyclones have made landfall on Madagascar's east coast this decade: Giovanna on Feb. 13, 2012 and Bingiza on Feb. 14, 2011, according to NOAA's Best Track database.