Fox News Weather Center

Year's First Tropical Cyclone Threatening Lives

Tropical Cyclone Bejisa is starting 2014 churning east of Madagascar and taking aim at the French island of Réunion.

Bejisa was the equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean Wednesday evening local time (Wednesday morning EST) as it churned east of northern Madagascar.

The warm waters of the Indian Ocean may cause Bejisa to reach major hurricane strength with maximum sustained winds in excess of 95 mph.

The dangerous cyclone will remain well east of Madagascar but poses severe dangers to lives and property on the French island of Réunion.

Réunion is home to more than 800,000 people, according to an estimate by the French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies.

The Hurricane Center expects Bejisa to track directly over or immediately to the west of Réunion Thursday afternoon local time.

Bejisa's strength will be that of a Category 2 or minimal Category 3 hurricane at landfall or when it makes it closest approach.

Destructive winds and potentially flooding rain of 125 to 250 mm (5 to 10 inches) will accompany Bejisa across Réunion. Locally greater rain amounts are possible in the higher terrain.

Conditions will begin deteriorating across Réunion early Thursday morning, then will improve Thursday night as Bejisa heads into the open waters of the southern Indian Ocean.

As Bejisa bears down on Réunion, the neighboring island of Mauritius will be subject to the cyclone's outer drenching rain bands and minimal tropical storm-force wind gusts.