Bengal and Odisha brace for super cyclone Amphan, PM Modi takes stock
This is the first super cyclonic storm in the Bay of Bengal since 1999 when over 9,000 people were killed in Odisha.
Super cyclone Amphan will make landfall in West Bengal between Digha and Hatiya Island in Bangladesh on Wednesday afternoon and is likely to have a devastating impact on the biodiverse Sundarbans mangrove forest region, India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Monday. This is the first super cyclonic storm in the Bay of Bengal since 1999 when over 9,000 people were killed in Odisha.
The wind speed is expected to be around 110 to 120 km per hour when Amphan crosses and is feared to lead to extensive damage even in Kolkata. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday chaired a high-level meeting to review the response measures to deal with Amphan and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF)’s evacuation plan. Officials said NDRF has deployed 25 teams, kept 12 others ready in reserve and 24 on the standby.
In a social media discussion organised by Union earth sciences ministry, IMD director general M Mohapatra said the cyclone can lead to the uprooting of trees, electric poles, damage to makeshift houses and old structures besides extensive flooding in densely-populated areas with poor drainage.
“All kinds of adverse weather can be expected as this is an extremely intense storm. I am making it very clear that it will be very intense,” said Mohapatra. He added Amphan intensified rapidly from a cyclonic storm on Saturday to a super cyclone by Monday afternoon with a wind speed of 220 to 230 km per hour. Amphan was expected to maintain its super cyclone status and intensity over the next 24 hours.
Amphan is a massive cyclone, 700 km in extent and 15 km in height, as it rotates around its centre in the central Bay of Bengal. The wind speed during landfall in the North and South 24 Pargana districts of West Bengal is likely to be around 165 to 175 km per hour gusting to 195 km per hour. Extremely heavy rainfall and severe winds are expected in East Medinipur, South and North 24 Parganas, Hooghly and Kolkata.
Four to six-metre and three to four-metre high tidal waves above the astronomical tide are likely to inundate low lying areas of South and North 24 Parganas and East Medinipur during the landfall.
According to a statement by the ministry of home affairs, the Indian Coast Guard and the Navy have deployed ships and helicopters for relief and rescue operations. Army and Air Force units are also on standby in West Bengal and Odisha.
Mohapatra said the cyclone is also expected to extensively damage the biodiversity of Sunderbans.
In north coastal Odisha also, wind speed can go up to 135 km per hour during landfall, but major damage is not expected as the cyclone is expected to cross parallel to the state’s coast.
“WB [West Bengal] coast is very shallow in nature... normal tidal waves go much inland. This can go up to 25 km along the rivers,” said Mohapatra. He added Amphan is meeting all favourable conditions for a rapid increase of intensity, including high sea surface temperatures, atmospheric instability, high humidity vorticity.
IMD said this is the first time that super cyclones will be recorded in two consecutive years—Kyarr (2019) and now Amphan--and could be linked to higher sea surface temperatures. Kyarr was formed in the Arabian Sea but was concentrated there and caused no fatalities. The last severe cyclone Fani hit Odisha in May 2019 and killed over 80 people.
“All conditions are currently favourable for the development of a super cyclone. The sea surface temperature is in the range of 30 to 31 degree Celsius, as compared to an expected temperature of 28 degree Celsius. There is vertical wind shear (change in wind speed with altitude), sufficient moisture, convective environment etc,” said Sunita Devi, who is in charge of cyclones at IMD.
Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, said Amphan has intensified extremely rapidly compared to other cyclones. “Since satellite data is available, such rapid intensification has not been seen. Cyclones draw energy from the ocean surface. So, sea surface temperature is an important factor. We are seeing record temperatures in some parts of the Bay of Bengal. Some buoys of the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services have recorded maximum temperature 32 to 34 degree Celsius during the first two weeks of May. That is linked to climate change surely and is one element which makes sure rapid intensification.”
Koll further said, “Amphan, with a wind speed of 145 knots, is now the strongest cyclone to have ever occurred in the Bay of Bengal (ever since 1982 when monitoring began) beating Phailin, the Odisha super cyclone of 1999. Also, this is the strongest cyclone to have occurred in the north Indian Ocean since 1982 (when monitoring began), equalling cyclne Gonu (occurring in the Arabian Sea in 2007) with wind speed of 145 knots. But the 1999 Odisha super cyclone is the strongest cyclone to make landfall over India till date.