How Cyclones are becoming more Intense in India

The north Indian Ocean is known for deadly cyclones since cyclones have been recorded. However, in the last decade, cyclones are showing a tendency of intensifying rapidly in a very short time. Such a trend has produced frequent devastating cyclones in both the east and the west coast of the country. Though there were many intense cyclones in the past, they were much rarer compared to what we see in the last few years. It is expected that global warming has a contribution to it. The question is, in what way!

North Indian Ocean sees an average of 5 cyclones a year. However, cyclones tend to form mainly in the Bay of Bengal and during May and October. The chance of cyclone formation in the rest of the year and in the Arabian Sea is comparatively much less. The latest trend shows that cyclones are scattered throughout the year, while more than one cyclone can exist at the same time in different parts of the north Indian Ocean. There is also a trend of cyclones showing sudden explosive intensification or less chance of weakening before hitting the coast. Moreover, the relatively quieter Arabian Sea has seen a sudden growth in cyclones and erratic rainfall (sudden hefty rain followed by drought) in recent years. Let us discuss these with examples.

Taking the year 2013, we all remember the cyclone Phailin causing havoc in south Odisha and north Andhra Pradesh. Phailin developed as a precursor low from the South China Sea. Two more cyclones followed, Helen and Lehar, both having their roots in typhoons of the South China Sea. So, we can see that the Bay of Bengal itself was not responsible for forming these cyclones. Except Phailin, Helen, Lehar, Madi and all other cyclones weakened before landfall. And the Arabian Sea was much quieter with the formation of just one depression.

In 2019, the earliest formed tropical cyclone, Pabuk, entered the Andaman Sea from the Gulf of Thailand on 4th January. The destructive Fani formed in late April close to Sumatra. Fani intensified rapidly from a cyclonic storm to an extremely severe cyclonic storm in less than 48 hours. Such rapid intensification started trends of rapidly intensifying cyclones in the North Indian Ocean. Very severe cyclonic storm Vayu, extremely severe cyclonic storm Maha, and super cyclonic storm Kyarr spared the lands as they turned away from land and fizzed out in the sea. The basin also saw rarest of its kind cyclones Kyarr and Maha, raging at the Arabian Sea at the same instant. Also, cyclones Maha in the Arabian Sea and Bulbul in the Bay of Bengal form and develop simultaneously. IMD called these two phenomena rarest of rarest. Such phenomenon of two cyclones existing simultaneously at the same basin was observed for the first time in 2018 when very severe cyclonic storms Luban and Titli raged the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal at the same time, and cyclones Mekunu following the heels of cyclone Sagar in the Arabian Sea.

Damages by Cyclone Tauktae

Amphan in 2020 was one of the strongest cyclones to be ever formed in the Bay of Bengal, and comparative to the 1999 Odisha cyclone. Amphan intensified beyond recognition from a cyclonic storm to a super cyclone in less than 24 hours. The rapid intensification of Amphan proved beyond doubt that cyclones are turning more devastating in recent years. Gati, which followed in the autumn of 2020, also underwent rapid intensification from 65km/hr to 185km/hr in just 12 hours. Cyclone Tauktae was initially expected to be much less intense, which underwent rapid intensification overnight before making landfall in Gujarat in 2021.

There have also been instances of cyclones changing paths just before landfall, giving little time for preparation. Cyclone Tauktae was initially forecasted to spare the Indian coast and move towards Pakistan or hit the coast near Dwarka. It changed the track after intensification and reached the Diu coast much before the anticipated time. Cyclone Ockhi of 2017 didn’t show any signs of intensification until near Kanyakumari, when it suddenly intensified rapidly before forecasted, causing fishers in the sea to be caught by surprise. Amphan too steered more towards the metropolitan city of Kolkata than anticipated causing massive destruction in the city.

Two tornadoes formed due to cyclone Yaas, one in Bandel and another in Ashoknagar of West Bengal, caused significant destruction to these places. Tornadoes are extremely rare in the North Indian Ocean but have recently surfaced here. The first considerable tornado recorded was formed in Cyclone Nisarga that struck Alibaug near Mumbai in 2020. Tornadoes are previously not forecasted, and hence, they are more dangerous to the public. Their place and time of formation are still unpredictable since tornadoes are a new entity in this basin.

Cyclone Yaas causing high storm surges

The most destructive feature of a landfalling cyclone is the storm surge. Lakhs of people are to be evacuated from low lying and erosion-prone areas and are relocated to cyclone shelters before a storm hits the land. However, many villagers do not want to leave their land, and thus cause destruction. In 2020 and 2021, most of these cyclone shelters are being used for Covid-19 treatment. Thus arises the need for new cyclone shelter locations, which hardly exist in remote villages. Storm surge of Fani, Amphan, Tauktae, and Yaas caused significant damage along the coast. Seawater reached areas far from the sea, damaging crops, livestock, forests and houses. Amphan and Yaas breached several earthen dams, which were previously never breached before. Both Amphan and Yaas reached mangrove island areas in eastern India that are rural, remote, but heavily populated. Covid-19 restrictions at the time of landfall of these cyclones hampered people movement, thus causing more damage than anticipated. Tauktae moved parallel to the west coast, flooding most of it in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra before reaching the Gujarat coast.

Also, desert areas of Yemen, Oman and Arabia, which are more prone to floods, are experiencing a sudden growth of cyclones. Even moderate rainfall in deserts is enough to cause catastrophic floods as the sandy soil is not accustomed to holding moisture. Cyclone Mekunu caused seven years worth of rain in a single day in parts of Yemen. Back to back cyclones of Chapala and Megh in 2015 caused record-breaking rainfall and flash floods in Socotra island and Yemen and Somalia overall. Cyclone Hikaa in 2019 and cyclone Ashobaa in 2015 and the super cyclone Gonu way back in 2007 reached the Omani coast dumping years’ worth of rain, floods and destruction.

Evacuation before Cyclone Amphan hit West Bengal

Minimizing global warming, deforestation, and curbing air pollution can be a long term solution, but what is in need of the hour is short term solutions. The Government has to take the initiative to build more cyclone shelters all along the coast and in the islands as the place is entirely safe from cyclone landfalling. The earthen dams are needed to be repaired at frequent intervals as their destruction has also become more frequent. The houses are to be built only in higher areas in the coastal plains. Illegal occupation of land by hotel and tourist companies along the coast needed to be stopped as such construction only loosens the topsoil that can be easily eroded. Most importantly, people need to be aware of the growth of devastating cyclones to protect themselves and lend a hand in rescuing others who are in need.

Written by – Himadri Paul

How Sundarbans Recovered from Impacts of Cyclone Amphan

Cyclone Amphan was one of the most destructive cyclones of all times to be formed in the Bay of Bengal, causing record damages to the state of West Bengal, which is affected the most. The South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, and the state’s capital, Kolkata, came under the Cyclone’s direct hit. At the same time, the districts of East Medinipur, Howrah, Hugli, and Nadia were severely affected as well.
What was the primary source of destruction in Cyclone Amphan? Wind speed of 155-165 kph is enough to uproot thousands of trees with more than a thousand in the capital of West Bengal, Kolkata itself. Hefty rains of 236 mm fell on 20th May in Kolkata, the day it was hit by the Cyclone, which caused water-logging of streets, and destruction of crops.

DANGEROUS AND BEAUTY MET

The most dangerous thing, however, was the storm surge. As the storm hit the land, huge waves and water surges moved across the Sundarbans area’s rivers and brooks. They reached the Sundarbans villages, washing away homes, muddy loose soil, destroying crops, farm animals, and all that the surge could take as it was withdrawing.
The storm surge even caused long-time destruction like depositing salt in the fertile farmlands and destroying the dykes and earthen dams. Sundarbans area is not just the most populated forested area in the World. It is also home to a large population of Royal Bengal Tigers, Sundari, and other mangrove trees. It has the World’s largest active delta region formed by a network of inter-connected rivulets, tidal creeks, islands, islets, muddy saline soil. And for all these, it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve.

However, things have turned around. With time, Sundarbans is slowly standing up on its feet. With assistance from the Government and contribution from the people, Sundarbans have recovered, and life is gradually moving towards normal. The national and state disaster rescue team have so far managed to rescue lakhs of people to safe cyclone shelters. Stranded people in the islands got rescued overnight just before the storm hit the shore. Although it floats the houses away, the Cyclone flooded the lands, still saved lakhs of lives. Yet, the population lost 89 lives in West Bengal following nature’s fury.
Many NGOs scattered around the city have offered help. With the residents’ help, they managed to set up relief camps, tents, constant food and water supply, electricity, road restoration, and reconstruction of houses that collapsed.

Some of the inhabited islands are being occupied again. The breaches in the dams are starting to repair with workers utilizing the full daylight period. With 24×7 surveillance from the State Electricity Board, electric power is restored in all the villages within two months. The PWD repairs the roads, and the village panchayats are looking to restore the villages’ living conditions. The agricultural fields are now contaminated with seawater and may take at least 4-5 years before it becomes suitable for crop sowing. The temporary shelters are now dismantling, the construction of collapsed houses is in full swing, and the fishing harbor jetties have been restoring.
The present scenario is that Sundarbans is standing up on its feet to the World. Tourism has still not been able to hold it’s shaping here due to the present Covid-19 situation. The fallen trees have not been replaced yet, and if returned, it will take years to become fully matured trees. Sundarbans are the lungs of Kolkata, and thus it is essential to protect it and maintain the biodiversity in the area. The buffer zones should not be exact, and reforestation should start where habitations have sprung up illegally. Sundarbans bore the first brunt of Cyclone Amphan and substantially weakened it before it reached Kolkata. Sundarbans itself got destroyed to protect the largest cities and most densely populated areas of eastern India. Hence, we should lend a hand to rebuild Sundarbans to the right habitable conditions for both the man and the wild.

-by Himadri Paul