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

Analysis of Glacial Burst in Uttarakhand

The upper Himalayan region is full of high peaks, and glaciers that store a vast amount of water to sustain the Indus valley civilization, the Vedic era, and even modern society today. Little do we know that the Himalayas’ glaciers are retreating at an alarming rate due to pollution and global warming. Things only come to notice when disasters happen.

Glacier burst in Uttarakhand is not a common thing. It is impossible to happen in February when the glaciers are expanding, owing to fresh snowfall in the area. However, what happened in Joshimath, Chamoli surprised the scientists as much as it shocked us.

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We had not forgotten the horrors of 2013 Uttarakhand flash floods at Kedarnath when rains melted the Chorabari glacier enough to cause “Himalayan Tsunami”. The glacier burst in Joshimath, near Badrinath, was a similar disaster, which damaged two under-construction hydroelectric power station in Rishiganga and Dhauliganga rivers, and also caused flash flooding in the Alakananda. However, the damage was mainly restricted to Joshimath area, and the downstream areas were not affected by the disaster.

The Rishiganga project at Reini village of Chamoli has thoroughly washed away. In the Dhauliganga project, the mouth of one of the tunnel was completely blocked were some of the project workers were working. Twelve workers have been rescued from a small tunnel by the NDRF, SDRF, Indian Tibetan border police and some other disaster operation teams jointly, after executing an indomitable task of cutting through the debris. However, the main tunnel is entirely blocked with at least 25-35 workers trapped inside. Despite the timely rescue operations, at least 50 lives are lost in the disaster, with over 150 missing as of 14th Feb 2021.

Scientists debate over what exactly happened. With proofs, it is presumed that a part of Nanda Devi glacier broke off and slid down the narrow valleys and melted, causing flash floods. It is also probable that the broken leg is a hanging valley of the massive glacier. It came down the central glacial valley into the river valley, first creating a glacial lake, which afterwards burst open, causing flash floods. The Dehradun-based Indian Institute of Remote Sensing states that the cause of flash-floods may be a landslide causing massive snow avalanche in the Rishiganga area.

There are also speculations that the cause was a radioactive substance which was long back deposited near Nanda Devi base camp. It was carried in 1965 due to China border nearby. However, the expedition team was caught in a blizzard and had to leave behind the substance. Subsequent expeditions never found it.
Another story is that of a recent western disturbance that recently visited the area, which caused heavy snow in the place, and an avalanche of a massive magnitude. Notably, the western disturbance had caused record-breaking snowfall in Shimla.

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However, all point to something exciting, Himalayan glaciers are melting very fast, and human encroachment in the mountains are causing more harm to the environment than good. A recent study done in 2019 have assessed that the glaciers are melting twice as fast as that at the beginning of the 20th century. Glaciers and snow will disappear from the Himalayas by the turn of the next century if conditions are not reversed.

Again, what is the need of the hour is awareness. Construction of roads, helipads, for easy access to the mountains may be a short term measure to prevent massive destruction due to natural calamities. The long term measures speak about global warming, pollution, encroachment, illegal construction, and much more. People of Lahaul-Spiti have already raised voices against the construction of hydroelectric power plants in the area, where environmental impact assessment are speculated to be not carried out correctly. It may be the beginning of new research in the ecologically sensitive Himalayan region, where we need the glaciers to stay and increase in volume.

For latest updates regarding Uttarakhand 2021 disaster, you may follow it here.

Written by – Himadri Paul

GLOBAL WARMING – An issue to look upon!

Global warming and climate change are a global threat. But solutions involve a superhuman level of sacrifice and awareness, says MIT Sloan’s Christopher Knittel. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but modern conveniences and technologies like electricity, transportation, and air conditioning contribute to climate change, and remedies potentially involve significant sacrifice and lifestyle change. It is likely to be the greatest threat of the 21st century.

We need to solve this problem otherwise we will end up destroying our beautiful planet. The government and the public need to work cordially to reduce the release of greenhouse gases. As far as Global Warming is a major issue, all governments of the world are implementing versatile ideas to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Countries around the world have recognised this problem and had signed a pact in Paris called The Paris Agreement in 2015. They all decided to reduce their carbon footprints. Despite this, the fight against climate change is a real opportunity to transition to a low carbon society, creating jobs, innovation and social justice locally and internationally.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), had set a target of not increasing the temperature more than around 2 degrees Celsius and in the later years around 1.5 degrees. The Solar Impulse Label is granted to innovative solutions that meet high standards of sustainability and profitability. Each solution goes through a strict assessment process performed by independent experts. Despite all of these actions, the results aren’t that fruitful.

We need to rethink everything we know about global warming - ISRAEL21c

BE THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE IN THE WORLD

We need to change our behaviour and lifestyle to protect and preserve our planet. This is the right time to develop our country individually by curbing carbon emissions as much as possible. In conclusion, we are on the right track to achieve this section of the sustainable development goals. If we come jointly and take initiatives then we can save our planet. Let’s eclipse this worldwide competition by working together, for together.

By Krisha Shah,
From Mumbai.