If the predictions had been borne out, Muscat would be waterlogged by now. Along with the rest of the country, it would be facing a soggy few days and the big clean-up would be just beginning.
By now, tropical “cyclone” Nanauk should have visited these shores and left a trail of destruction in its wake after the briefest of stays. Its flirtation with Oman was due to come on Sunday, not for long but certainly enough time to wreak havoc. The country was braced for the worst.
The memory of Gonu in 2007 and the devastation it caused, as seen in these photographs, remains strong.
Residents of Masirah Island and around the coast evacuated their homes, or at least took their valuables to the mainland for safekeeping. Hourly updates were issued by weather experts and advice issued by the authorities. Meanwhile, a social media storm was raging in the worlds of WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook.
The storm was given a name – Nanauk – which was a bad sign. Only when a storm has a wind speed of more than 63kmh does it become a “tropical storm” and is officially named.
Satellite images showed a ferocious-looking swirling mass about 500km off the coast – and heading our way.
Reports spoke of waves reaching up to 16 metres high. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry announced it had taken all “precautionary measures” to avoid any shortage of food or fuel in the days after the storm hit.
People started ominously referring to Nanauk as a “cyclone” instead of just a storm (for the record, a tropical storm is categorised as becoming a cyclone when the maximum sustained wind speed is more than 119kmh, according to the World Meteorological Organization). Oman was braced for the worst.
And then, with 24 hours to go, Nanauk went off script, and off course, veering towards the Pakistan coast and away from the Sultanate.
The headlines changed and the talk was all about the “depression” weakening in the Arabian Sea.
After somewhat redundant consultations by the Committee of Exceptional Weather Systems, chaired by the CEO of the Public Authority for Civil Aviation, it was concluded there would be “no direct impact” on Oman and declared the end of Nanauk.
No winds with speeds of up to 90kmph would be sweeping in, battering the country and bringing an estimated 100-300mm of lashing rainfall in 24 hours. North and South Sharqiyah, Al Wusta and Muscat governorates were spared, along with the dozens of green turtles making their way to or on to the beach near Ras Al Hadd with nesting season in full swing.
Instead, the residents of Muscat woke up on Sunday and Monday to temperatures nudging 40°C and the usual cloudless blue skies with endless sun (left). The country breathed a collective sigh of relief. Forecasting meteorological events of any kind is at the mercy of the winds of change, quite literally.
“This phenomena has stages,” said a spokesman from the National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology (NCMS) in the UAE.
“The storm takes time to form and gather intensity and strength. The warm water is its main energy, like fuel for an engine, so once it forms, it moves west and twists around itself like a cyclone.”
It’s this unpredictability, as shown by Nanauk, which can make the job of weather forecasting such a hit-and-miss affair. You can’t anticipate what a cyclone travelling at a speed of 30-40 knots will do.
Such storms are not uncommon at this time of year, according to the NCMS.
“If we look at historical data, we’ve had such storms in the past, like back in 2007, although it was much stronger,” said the spokesman. “The track of such storms have many possibilities, and Oman is one of them.”
Cyclone Gonu struck the coastline of Oman on June 6, 2007 and caused widespread damage with winds howling through Muscat, forcing thousands from their homes as torrential rains flooded streets and closed down schools and the airport, leaving 50 dead.
Little wonder Oman was quite happy to wave goodbye to Nanauk as it swept past.
Words: Kate Ginn
Hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones are different names for the same type of storm, known as “tropical cyclones”. What they’re called depends on where they’re from.