Cyclone Giovanna, the 12th depression and seventh named storm in the 2012 Indian Ocean, made landfall near the eastern port city of Toamasnia (Tamatave), Madagascar in early morning on February 14. Giovanna intensified into a monster Category 4 storm with sustained winds around 145 miles per hour as it was nearing central/eastern Madagascar. Fortunately, Giovanna experienced an eyewall replacement cycle which weakened the system prior to making landfall. Unofficially, it looks like Giovanna made landfall as a Category 3 storm with sustain winds around 115-120 mph.
There have been many reports of damage and flooding across Madagascar. The news is pouring in slowly because many areas are still without electricity. As of now, at least 16 people have died from Giovanna. Giovanna is currently over the Mozambique Channel and is expected to slow down, re-intensify, and move to the west-southwest and possibly get close to southern Mozambique before it recurves and pushes southeast by February 20, 2012.
Giovanna pushed further inland across the capital city of Antananrivo where they experienced heavy rains that caused mudslides and strong winds of tropical storm force (between 39 mph to 73 mph). The outer bands that surround the eye of the storm, also called the eyewall, is what typically contains the strongest convection that produces the violent, hurricane force winds. The eyewall pushed south of Antananrivo, which explains why they saw weaker winds. Many cities experienced power shutdowns and communications are limited. There have been unconfirmed reports that some smaller towns and villages such as Vatomandry had over 60% of the homes were either damaged or destroyed. Vatomandry is located 50 kilometers south of the eye of the storm. Based on their location and where the storm hit, this town likely experienced the strongest winds and storm surge from this storm. In the southern Hemisphere, low pressure moves clockwise. In other words, the winds were blowing directly to the shore south of the center.
The biggest concern I have about Giovanna was that parts of the eastern coast of Madagascar were not aware of the intensity and magnitude of Giovanna. People knew a storm was approaching from the east, but they had no idea it was a major tropical cyclone that could cause a lot of damage. Why was this the case? It sounds so elementary in my opinion. If you have a major cyclone approaching your area, the people deserve to know when, where, and how strong. Why did they not know these important details? Many people replied to my previous Giovanna post warning of the dangers of this storm and provided a lot of information regarding the status of Ambatovy and the overall mindset of the people in Madagascar. It was really amazing to see everyone come together to share and pray for the people in Madagascar.
Madagascar is known to see strong tropical cyclones push through the region. In 2008, Cyclone Ivan hit Madagascar as a strong Category 2 hurricane with winds around 110 mph. When it hit Madagascar, it killed over 80 people and left nearly 200,000 people homeless. On March 7, 2004, a Category 5 storm (winds over 155 mph) hit Madagascar and provided nearly 20 inches of rain. Flooding and extreme winds made this storm (Gafilo) the deadliest for Madagascar as it killed 363 people. The Indian Ocean can produce some violent storms, and a lot of these storms track near Madagascar every year from January through May.
Madagascar greatly reduced and weakened Giovanna as it passed over its mountainous terrain which disrupted the storm. As of now Giovanna is a tropical storm producing winds around 55 mph. The track of this storm is still uncertain at this point. Originally, Giovanna was going to strengthen, eventually turn around, and move south of Madagascar as it pushed towards Antarctica. However, Giovanna has slowed down greatly, and now the models have the system pushing into central Mozambique. As I mentioned in my previous post, Mozambique really does not need the rain as past systems have already caused significant flooding across this region. A slow moving tropical storm can be just as deadly as a fast moving Category 3 storm. With that said, all residents along southern and central Mozambique should stay alert for the latest weather forecasts. Also, another system in the Indian Ocean is expected to develop and push west-southwest near Madagascar. Whether or not this storm will impact Madagascar is still a question, but once again, residents are urged to keep an eye on it. For now, it looks as if it will push further south and move over cooler waters which should prevent it from strengthening rapidly.
Bottom line: Tropical Cyclone Giovanna pushed into central/eastern Madagascar on February 14 as a potent Category 3 storm with winds around 120 mph. It produced heavy rains and strong winds that produced flooding, mud slides, and damaged homes and vehicles. As of now, at least 16 people have died, and at least 11,000 people are now left homeless. Reports will still be coming in regarding injuries and damage. Communications across the region has been limited for now, and the clean up effort will likely take months as residents rebuild. Another tropical system could impact the same areas (most likely south of the original areas hit by Giovanna), so all residents are urged to monitor the weather as it changes this weekend.
Matt Daniel is Meteorologist for WBRC in Birmingham, Alabama. A self-described "big weather and music geek," Matt has a passion for helping to keep people safe when severe weather strikes and says if you don't have a NOAA Weather Radio ... you should get one.