Tropical Cyclone (TC) Phailin (Cat. 5) is taking aim at India’s densely populated Bay of Bengal coastline. TC Phailin is schedule to make landfall on Saturday with potentially catastrophic storm surges threatening to flood tens of kilometers inland along the Odisha coastline. Cyclone awareness, education and evacuation plans are critical for saving lives. India must evacuate!
The consequences of a botched evacuation were highlighted only 5 years ago across the Bay of Bengal. In 2008 the tropical cyclone Nargis (Cat. 4) made landfall on the eastern coastlines of the Bay of Bengal causing the worst natural disaster in Myanmar’s recorded history (Fritz et al., 2009). Official death toll estimates exceed 138,000 fatalities making it the 8th deadliest cyclone ever recorded worldwide. The lack of a full scale evacuation resulted in a humanitarian disaster with catastrophic peak fatality rates exceeding 80% in hardest hit villages. Since the 1970 Bhola cyclone with up to half a million fatalities, Nargis represents the deadliest tropical cyclone worldwide and one of the worst natural disasters, with the exceptions of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The Bay of Bengal alone counts seven tropical cyclones with dead tolls in excess of 100,000 striking India and Bangladesh.
Tropical cyclones develop in the North Indian Ocean from 55° to 95° east and 5° to 20° north. Tropical cyclones in the Bay of Bengal during the last 500 years with more than 10,000 associated deaths were identified. When available the corresponding track and wind speed data were obtained from the International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardship (IBTrACs) database and from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC). These are compared to 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami deaths in this figure:
Bay of Bengal fatalities from major cyclone events (> 10,000 deaths)
from 1584 up to Nargis in 2008 with storm track and wind speed
(JTWC/IBTrACS) compared against 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami deaths.
There are two cyclone seasons in the north Indian Ocean, namely the pre-monsoon (May) and post-monsoon (October and November). Some cyclones form in transitional months June and September. More cyclones form in the Bay of Bengal than the Arabian Sea based on an approximate 4:1 frequency ratio. Intense cyclones have been extremely rare over the Arabian Sea with the exception of Gonu in 2007 (Fritz et al., 2010).
The Bay of Bengal accounts also for some of the highest storm surges worldwide comparable to Hurricane Katrina along the US Gulf Coast (Fritz et al., 2007). India has significantly improved the cyclone awareness and evacuation procedures over the past decades. The 1999 Odisha cyclone was the deadliest Indian storm since 1971. The Category Five storm made landfall in Odisha only weeks after a category 4 storm struck nearby and contained the death toll to 10,000. Hopefully the lessons learned from past cyclones and a full scale evacuation will contain the death toll. India is being put to the test and must evacuate!
References Fritz, H.M., Blount, C.D., Thwin, S., Thu, M.K., Chan, N. (2009). Cyclone Nargis storm surge in Myanmar, Nature Geoscience 2(7):448-449, doi:10.1038/ngeo558. Fritz, H.M, C.D. Blount, F.B. Albusaidi, A.H.M. Al-Harthy (2010). Cyclone Gonu Storm Surge in Oman, Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Sciences, 86(1):102–106, doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2009.10.019. Fritz, H.M., C. Blount, R. Sokoloski, J. Singleton, A. Fuggle, B.G. McAdoo, A. Moore, C. Grass, B. Tate (2007). Hurricane Katrina Storm Surge Distribution and Field Observations on the Mississippi Barrier Islands, Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Sciences, 74(1-2):12-20, doi:10.1016/j.ecss.2007.03.015.
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