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Destructive storms ravage South African coastal areas, communities assessing the costs

Annisa Essack | kzn@radioislam.org.za
21 September 2023 | 00:00 CAT

2 min read

Photo Credit: SABC

Coastal towns and cities across the country are still grappling with the aftermath of destructive storms that recently swept through the region. These powerful tidal surges wreaked havoc in coastal areas, leaving behind damaged homes, vehicles, and businesses and claiming at least one life. The question that lingers is, what factors contributed to these devastating storms? To shed light on this issue, Professor Jasper Knight, a geoscientist specialising in coastal processes, joined Radio Islam International to answer this question.

According to Professor Knight, three key factors primarily drive coastal floods. The first factor involves storms originating over the open ocean and advancing toward the coastline. These storms are typically accompanied by low-pressure weather systems that result in a slight elevation of the sea surface, known as a storm surge. This surge can lead to coastal flooding when the storm makes landfall, with the severity depending on the strength of the weather system.

The strong winds associated with these storms are the second factor contributing to coastal flooding. These powerful winds, blowing across the ocean, generate large waves that can cause significant damage to coastal areas. As witnessed in recent events, these waves often destroy homes, infrastructure, and vehicles.

While these storms are not uncommon, their impact can vary. The convergence of the third critical factor, high tide, made the recent events particularly devastating. High tide elevates the water’s surface, and when combined with the storm surge and strong winds, it intensifies the coastal flooding. This triple threat created a situation with more extensive damage than usual.

In response to how likely such events are to recur, Professor Knight emphasised that storms are a natural part of weather systems and occur regularly. Tides also follow a predictable pattern based on lunar cycles. Consequently, meteorological data and tidal predictions provide valuable information to help identify periods of increased risk for coastal flooding. The key lies in communicating this information to communities and local authorities.

Professor Knight recommended several measures to mitigate the impact of future coastal storms. First and foremost is disseminating weather forecasts and tidal information to local stakeholders, including communities and municipalities. These stakeholders can then make informed decisions based on the data provided.

Additionally, he highlighted the need for people to move away from the coastline when coastal flooding is threatened. Securing assets such as cars and keeping them indoors can prevent them from being damaged or swept away during storms. Furthermore, restricting access to coastal areas during extreme weather events can help reduce the risk to individuals drawn to the coast to witness the waves.

In summary, while coastal storms are common, their impact can be devastating when multiple factors align. By improving communication, raising awareness, and implementing practical measures, communities can reduce the risks of these natural phenomena and better protect lives and property.

Listen here to the full interview with Prof Jasper Knight and Sulaimaan Ravat on Sabahul Muslim.

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