An unusually intense cyclone hit parts of the Middle East with very heavy rain and strong winds, starting with Egypt on March 12, 2020, before moving onto other neighboring countries. The worst affected was Egypt where it was described as the country's worst storm in 40 years. Cairo recorded more than 60.9 mm (2.4 inches) before the storm moved on -- 16 times its average March rainfall. Other countries affected were Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, and Syria. Unofficial names for this cyclone are Medicane Benjamin and Dragon Storm.
The storm battered Egypt from Thursday to Friday, March 12 to 13, causing widespread flooding and sandstorms. Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly called it the worst storm in up to four decades.
"Egypt has not experienced such weather conditions for nearly 35 or 40 years," the PM said in a statement.
According to the Associated Press, 21 fatalities have been confirmed, which included six children who died either form being buried in collapsed homes or due to electrocution. Moreover, one of the fatalities was a six-year-old boy who was struck with a fallen tree.
Most of the fatalities happened in the country's rural places and slums, authorities said.
Port Said, on the eastern coast of Egypt, registered a whopping 263 mm (10.35 inches) in just 24 hours on March 12. 25 mm (1 inch) of rainfall was recorded in Ismailia city on the west bank of the Suez canal, while Mersa Matruh registered 20 mm (0.8 inches).
Cairo recorded 42 mm (1.65 inches) on the same day and more than 60.9 mm (2.4 inches) before the storm moved on. This is 16 times its March average as the city usually receives just 3.81 mm (0.15 inches) during the entire month of March.
Meteorologist Jonathan Belles said the weather was influenced by an unusual low-pressure system. "Any rain is significant in that region, so a low-pressure system is exceptionally significant," he explained.
People took to social media to share photos and videos of the storm raging on, dubbing it "dragon storm" due to its powerful intensity. Aside from widespread flooding, the dragon storm spawned a sandstorm.
The Egyptian government declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, March 11, prior to the storm's arrival, and announced a paid holiday for Thursday, March 13, allowing the public to remain indoors.
Schools, public offices, and train services were suspended until Saturday, March 14. Several key highways and public infrastructure, including international airports and seaports were also closed.
Image credit: Meteosat-8. Acquired 12:00 UTC on March 13, 2020.
Image credit: Meteosat-8. Acquired 16:30 UTC on March 13, 2020.
Strong winds ahead of the rain also dust storms, in Amman, Jordan, on Thursday, according to AccuWeather. Moreover, torrential rains also swept through the country, causing inundations and traffic chaos.
Israel was also affected, disrupting road and rail systems particularly in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv. Several footages also show flooding and dust storms to Syria and Iraq.
Meanwhile, in Lebanon, several rivers burst their banks, cutting highways off. Roaring winds impacted refugee camps, blowing away tents, public statues, and properties. Trees were uprooted, and the roads were flooded.
Several flights were rerouted to Larnaca and Antalya airports as howling winds made landings unsafe at Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport.
Featured image credit: NASA/NOAA Suomi NPP/VIIRS/ Acquired March 13, 2020.