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Meteorologists are warning Friday that a potentially record strong cyclone in the Arabian Sea heading towards Oman and Yemen threatens the area with severe winds and years' worth of rain in a matter of days.
Cyclone Chapala, whose rapid intensification was helped by warmer-than-average water, is now the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane, packing winds of 155 mph. It could intensify further to the equivalent of a Category 5.
"Chapala is also on pace to become the strongest cyclone on record in the Arabian Sea," said Accuweather Senior Meteorologist Jason Nicholls.
Though it's expected to weaken to a Category 1 when it makes landfall late Monday, Chapala could still bring devastation.
Striking land at that strength, writes meteorologist Jon Erdman, is "a very unusual, if not unprecedented occurrence for Yemen or southwest Oman."
"We do expect it will weaken before it makes landfall," said Clare Nullis, spokeswoman for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). "It will probably be more on the lines of Category 1. But even so there will be very high gale force winds in an area that is just not used to seeing this," she said.
The WMO warns that the most serious damage could come from very heavy rainfall which could overwhelm local infrastructure and trigger flooding and landslides.
According to the UK Met office: "Rainfall is [...] likely to prove hazardous, with this system possibly producing up to 500mm (almost 20 inches) of rainfall in a 48 hour period. This is likely to cause severe flooding if it falls over a town or city. This part of Yemen usually sees less than 100mm (roughly 4 inches) of rain during the whole year."
WMO's Nullis also told reporters that though it was not possible to attribute climate change to this one storm, she added that "with climate change, we're really heading into unknown territory."
"We have to be prepared to face the unexpected," she said.