In the course of a single day, an exceptionally rare hurricane-strength storm unloaded up to four years’ worth of rain along Oman’s northern coast, causing deadly flooding.
Named Tropical Cyclone Shaheen, the tempest slammed ashore late Sunday, about 50 miles to the west of Muscat, Oman’s capital city, and very close to the coastal towns of Al Suwayq and Al Masnaah.
The storm has since departed, but not before leaving 11 dead in Oman, according to the Associated Press, mostly because of flash flooding and landslides. The storm was also blamed for two fatalities in Iran, where the bodies of two fishermen were found.
The Times of Oman reported that up to 14.5 inches fell in Al Khaburah, which is just to the west of where the storm came ashore. The city of about 40,000 people averages between three and four inches of rain per year.
Several nearby locations received more than eight inches of rain. Al Suwayq registered about a foot, with 4.5 inches falling in just six hours.
Muscat’s Seeb International Airport received 3.7 inches in 24 hours Sunday, which is about its average annual rainfall. The airport clocked wind gusts up to 51 mph, but the most severe winds almost certainly occurred in areas to the west that were intercepted by Shaheen’s eyewall, the ring of intense thunderstorms surrounding the storm’s calm center, closer to Al Suwayq.
As the storm crossed the coast, its maximum sustained winds were around 75 mph, equivalent to a Category 1 hurricane. Waves were predicted to be 30 to 40 feet high over the Gulf of Oman before Shaheen’s landfall along Oman’s central-northeast coast.
Scenes from social media showed floodwaters and landslides overwhelming the region. The Times of Oman’s live updates on the storm described blocked and flooded roads, people trapped in vehicles, building collapses and overflowing dams. The desert landscape and its infrastructure are unaccustomed to so much rain in a short duration.
Shaheen was the first tropical cyclone to make landfall along Oman’s northern coast since 1890 and only the third on record. None have been observed in the era of weather satellites (since the 1960s) or during the month of October. According to meteorologists Bob Henson and Jeff Masters, writing for Yale Climate Connections, it struck farther west in Oman than any previous tropical cyclone.
Henson and Masters wrote that Shaheen fed off the very warm waters of the Gulf of Oman, which were between 84 and 88 degrees, several degrees above normal. Ocean temperatures have been rising worldwide because of human-caused climate change.