Cape Town - Madagascar's tropical storm Eliakim has intensified its status from moderate to severe, and will make landfall along the north-eastern coastline of Madagascar on Friday, 16 March.
According to South African Weather Service (SAWS), the storm will bring "strong damaging winds, torrential rainfall and very rough sea conditions to much of eastern Madagascar this weekend".
"Rainfall is likely to be dramatically enhanced by the mountainous topography of the country, with a significant risk of landslides, mudslides and general flooding adding to the overall risk and vulnerability of the inhabitants of Africa’s largest island," says SAWS, adding that the storm is forecast "to stay well away from South African shores".
Torrential rain, strong winds
The storm is the fifth such system to develop in the south-west Indian ocean region this summer. "Whilst Eliakim is not making landfall over Madagascar as a fully-fledged tropical cyclone, Eliakim nevertheless has great potential to cause significant damage to infrastructure, mainly as a result of a combination of torrential rain as well as strong winds of the order of 89 to 118 km/h," says SAWS.
Kevin Rae, Chief Forecaster at SAWS, explains that Eliakim "is not sufficiently strong/intense to be termed a tropical cyclone. Eliakim is currently associated with winds of the order of 89-118km/h whilst in the case of a full-blown tropical cyclone, the range of wind strength is 119-166 km/h. This is however, largely an academic classification as Eliakim will still cause widespread damage and - if previous systems are anything to go by - probably loss of life as well, which is an unfortunate but almost inevitable consequence of such systems".
Footage of the wind shared on Twitter:
Impact on locals
SAWS says that "in terms of impacts on this largely impoverished island state, the risk of wash-aways, landslides and localised flooding will be magnified by the generally patchy infrastructure of narrow roads and few bridges. The risk of isolated communities becoming cut off by rising floodwaters is therefore a distinct hazard."
In addition to this, flying debris - especially in coastal towns of Ambalabe and Ambohitralanana in north-eastern Madagascar - is also a safety hazard. "Inhabitants would be well-advised to seek shelter in well-constructed buildings," warns SAWS, adding that coastal communities must be aware of the risk of storm surge, as local sea level will rise about one to two metres above local tide action, along most of the eastern seaboard of Madagascar.
"Whilst this tropical storm system is undoubtedly severe, in terms of impacts on local Madagascan communities and infrastructure, the good news is that Eliakim will not directly affect all of Madagascar, with the more heavily-populated western and south-western parts largely unaffected," says SAWS.
As the storm moves overland, a weakening of the system is anticipated on Sunday, 18 March and Monday, 19 March. "Eliakim is expected to change track quite markedly and is most likely to begin moving towards the south-east and out to sea again, away from Madagascar," adds SAWS.
"By Tuesday (20 March) the weather over Madagascar should have cleared completely - that is if the system follows the predicted track," adds Rae.
Impact on travellers
Rae told Traveller24 that at this stage - with reference to the official guidance track from La Reunion - neither Mauritius nor La Reunion are likely to be directly affected by Eliakim.
"However, these systems are notoriously fickle in their movement and hence it is very difficult to accurately and explicitly predict the movement of such systems," says Rae, adding that it is therefore highly unlikely that any flights to or from Mauritius would be affected "as the airliners will just fly over/around such a storm system at an appropriate altitude".
Regarding flights to or from Madagascar, Rae says that "the greatest impact will probably be flights to/from Antananarivo (Ivato Airport) in the central part of the interior, where flights will probably be suspended from now onwards, through the entire weekend".
"Any airports in the north and east will probably shut down for the weekend as well," adds Rae, explaining that reopening airports following the passage of such systems proves to be challenging, as there is typically lots of debris or flooding at airports.
Travellers are advised to keep updated with the related storm alerts and plan ahead with respect to flights scheduled for this weekend over the storm area.