The northern hemisphere’s quietest tropical cyclone basin is currently going off. Cyclone Kyarr formed on Thursday and quickly spun up in the Indian Ocean into the most powerful storm on the planet. While the storm won’t have a huge impact on land, it’s already making its presence felt in the record books in what’s been a weird and bad year in general for tropical cyclones, a classification that includes tropical storms, hurricanes and typhoons as well.
Cyclone Kyarr rapidly intensified over the weekend, going from the equivalent of a Category 2 to Category 4 storm in just six hours on Saturday. It’s currently packing winds of around 240 km/h, putting it on the high end of Category 4. That makes it a “super cyclonic storm,” according to the Indian Meteorological Department. It’s also the first such system to form in the Arabian Sea since June 2007's Cyclone Gonu. That system made landfall in the Middle East, inflicting the most widespread damage in Oman despite weakening considerably by landfall.
During its rapid intensification, Kyarr’s pressure bombed out to 915 millibars. The lower the pressure, generally the more intense the storm. And in the case of Kyarr, the 915 millibar reading set a new record for Arabian Sea cyclones (a 1999 cyclone that formed on the other side of the Indian Ocean holds the all-time low pressure record for the basin).
The good news is that Kyarr is well out to sea. The storm is pointed toward Oman, but it’s expected to turn southwest and then track parallel to the coast. Along the way, it will slowly begin to weaken. Early next week, it could potentially bring impacts to the Horn of Africa, but it’s still way too early to talk about what they could look like.
Beyond individual superlatives, Kyarr also pushed the Indian Ocean to set a record for its most intense cyclone season on record. Scientists use a metric known as accumulated cyclone energy (ACE) to take a big picture view of cyclone seasons. ACE essentially adds up the windspeed measurements from all storms in the basin over time, giving a clearer metric than just the number of storms of how intense a season was. In the case of the Indian Ocean, ACE is up to 53.9 or more than five times the normal ACE for this time of year. It also represents a record for the most intense Indian Ocean cyclone season on record.
The basin is usually sleepier than the Atlantic and parts of the Pacific (the northwest Pacific averages 247.2 ACE units by this point in the year), but hey, a record is still a record. Capital Weather Gang points out how Indian Ocean Dipole, a natural climate pattern, has given a boost to tropical cyclones in the western portion of the basin this year.
It’s currently in a positive phase, which creates a warm reservoir of water in the Arabian Sea and elsewhere. Cyclones feed off of this warm water, and it generally spurs more areas of thunderstorms that can be spun up into cyclones. It could strengthen further in the coming months, increasing the odds of more cyclones and even setting a record for the strongest Indian Ocean Dipole itself.
Some research indicates the positive phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole could become more extreme due to climate change. Global warming also means just that: The oceans are heating up. This increases the odds of intense storms, and Kyarr certainly fits that pattern even if no specific research has been done on it.