The tropical cyclonic formation hurtling at high speed from the Bay of Bengal is likely to make landfall and assume “Extremely Severe” Category 3 in Odisha on Friday, May 3, according to the Indian Meteorological Department. There will no impact on the Indian mainland before Friday, although moderate to heavy rains may sweep Kerala.
Cyclone Fani is poised to be the strongest landfalling cyclone to hit India in 5 years. Philip Klotzbach, meteorologist at CSU, tweeted that Fani is likely “the strongest cyclone this early in the calendar year in the North Indian Ocean, since Cyclone Nargis in 2008”.
Other weather observing websites have identified the cyclone as one of the strongest in 43 years. Some have issued tailed warnings in view of the impending storm, which could prove to be more devastating than Cyclone Titli last year.
According to BBC Weather, the cyclone continues to strengthen out in open waters with sustained winds over 161km/hour.
India braces for Fani
In response, the Odisha government has decided to evacuate nearly 10 lakh people from seaside villages and low-lying areas to safer spots; neighbouring states West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh are also on high alert. A total of 19 districts in these three coastal states, including Kolkata and most of northern Andhra Pradesh, stand in the way of the storm, according to reports.
The cyclone will, in all likelihood, hit the southern coasts of Puri on Friday evening. The Model Code of Conduct, which is implemented for the entire duration of the seven-phase Lok Sabha polls everywhere, has been lifted in 11 Odisha districts under these circumstances. Some 83 trains on the eastern route have been diverted or cancelled, putting Odisha on “yellow” alert.
The sea is off limits for tourists and fishermen until further notice; in fact, the government has asked tourists to leave Puri by Thursday afternoon as part of the mass evacuation to minimise impact.
Schools and colleges are shuttered and being used to house evacuees, should the 879 cyclone shelters fall short. Besides the state and national disaster response forces, rapid actions forces, fire services, the air force, the navy and the coast guard are also on standby to provide assistance to victims during evacuation and relief.
Provision of free kitchen services, food packets, and restoration of power, water, and communication are also among the state’s top priorities at the moment.
Weather watchers have urged people away from the coast to be careful as well, as Fani is likely to bring storm surges, high waves and swell waves in its wake, which could lead to wide-scale destruction in the interior parts of Odisha.
Charting the course of Cyclone Fani
According to the National Disaster Management Authority, Cyclone Fani may weaken or intensify on Thursday depending on which direction it takes. The storm intensified severely while moving northwards on Monday, April 29, acquiring wind speeds of up to 250 kmph.
Then, it started to move northwestwards, which is when it weakened slightly. Fani is likely to stay on this latter course, according to a broadcast by the Andhra government. Thereafter, it is expected to recurve north-northeastwards and cross Odisha Coast between Gopalpur and Chandbali, to the south of Puri the next afternoon, with sustained wind of maximum speed 175-185 kmph.
Odisha has spent the past few days preparing for hell and high water. It has requisitioned two helicopters for dropping food packets in remote areas; it also got an advance aid package worth Rs 340 billion. The government has cancelled the leaves of all doctors affiliated to public hospitals and deputed 12 senior IAS officers in sensitive areas to oversee rescue work in due course.
For now, the east coast anticipates a cyclone of massive scale and proportion. Last November, Cyclone Ockhi had hit parts of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Sri Lanka, killing over 80 fishermen in Kerala and another 140 people missing.
In November 2018, Cyclone Gaja made landfall in Nagapattinam’s Vedaranyam block and killed around 46 people.
Is this because of climate change?
While atmospheric scientists still don’t hold a definitive answer to that, the increasing instances of devastating and successive cyclones along with the global rise of temperatures of oceanic waters have led many to conjecture that the two may be related.
Feeding this theory is the fact that hurricanes draw their energy from deep below the ocean’s surface, which recorded its highest temperature in 2017, thus implying that hurricanes have become more likely as climate change continues to warm the waters.
A recent MIT study also posited that climate change, which is constantly moving the energy in the air, may also be prompting stronger thunderstorms in the Northern Hemisphere, including India.
Extratropical hurricanes or cyclones feed off the horizontal temperature gradient of the atmosphere (difference in normal temperatures among northern and southern latitudes).
Atlantic and Pacific storms have demonstrated a lethal trend of worsening both in length and intensity since the 20th century, now dumping historic volumes of rain to submerge entire cities—painting a dismal picture, especially when poorer nations suffer the brunt of natural disasters like the Category 5 Hurricane Maria, which left 2,975 dead in Puerto Rico last year, and the more recent Cyclone Idai, which has left most of Mozambique devastated—and revealing the fundamental injustice at the heart of climate change.
Situation in South Asia
But Indian Ocean formations have also caused large-scale destruction multiple times over the last five years in India itself. But a greater concern is for poorer Asian nations, as they become repeated targets of climatic onslaughts and, consequently, look to regional powers to lend a hand in rescue (cyclones are expensive) or offer a home to displaced victims.
Climate change will displace as many as 40 million people in South Asia by 2050, according to studies. Experts, however, believe that India is grossly underprepared for this influx. It also has its own climate refugee problems to deal with.
Cyclone Aila (2009) had reportedly triggered the migration of nearly a million families from the Sundarbans over the last decade, driving them in search of work, particularly to Kerala. But the devastating flood in the southern state last year engineered a reverse migration as thousands started to return to their native villages after Kerala’s construction sector crashed sharply.
Greater preparedness needed
Climate change-triggered mass migration is real, and new data suggests that hurricanes could become stronger, slower, and wetter in the future.
But there is an eminent lack of data and policies on preparedness, especially in India. While a lot of it is beyond human control, the blow can still be cushioned with smart and timely preparations, like evacuating coastal areas before landfall, encouraging farmers to practise the more profitable integrated farming techniques, and building cyclone-proof infrastructure, to name a few.
Without comprehensive plans to adapt to climate change, humankind is looking down the barrel of the end of another civilisation, led by climate change.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius
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