‘Mocha possibly the strongest tropical cyclone in north Indian Ocean since 1982’
The climate crisis is providing conditions for rapid intensification of cyclones and supercharging them, threatening lives of millions of vulnerable people
New Delhi: Cyclone Mocha, which crashed into the Bangladesh and Myanmar coasts on Sunday afternoon at a peak intensity of around 260 kmph, was possibly the strongest tropical cyclone in the northern Indian Ocean region since 1982, meteorologists and climate scientists said.
At least three people were reported to have been killed as the cyclone made landfall on a path that is set to cross the world’s biggest refugee camp in Bangladesh, home to about a million Rohingyas who fled there years ago from neighbouring Myanmar. Bangladesh and Myanmar evacuated hundreds of thousands of people on fears of widespread destruction.
“Cyclone Nargis in 2008 attained a maximum wind speed of 215 kmph. It was the worst meteorological disaster to hit Myanmar. Cyclone Mocha now has attained maximum wind speed of 260 kmph as per global agencies, which falls under the super cyclone category,” said Roxy Mathew Koll, climate scientist at Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology. “The impact of Cyclone Mocha will be deadly on the local population.”
Mocha reached super cyclone intensity hours before landfall, with peak intensity around 260 kmph, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre (JTWC), headquartered in Pearl Harbour in the US, and the Regional and Mesoscale Meteorology Branch (RAMMB) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The India Meteorological Department maintained a lower category status of the storm based on its observations.
“Cyclone Mocha is now the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the north Indian Ocean (including all seasons, both Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal) in the satellite era (since 1982) equalling the strength of Fani,” said Vineet Kumar Singh, researcher at the Typhoon Research Center, Jeju National University, South Korea.
Cyclone Fani, which made landfall in Odisha in 2019 and Mocha on Sunday recorded peak wind speed of 277.8 kmph followed by Gonu over the Arabian Sea in 2007 and Amphan over Bay of Bengal in 2020 with maximum intensity of 268.54 kmph, according to JTWC, which issues alerts on tropical cyclones. The peak intensity of Mocha was around 260 kmph, according to RAMMB, which too monitors oceanic storms.
The climate crisis is providing conditions for unusually rapid intensification of cyclones and supercharging them, threatening lives of millions of vulnerable people along the coasts, experts said.
“While the track forecast is excellent, obviously these forecasts have missed this rapid intensification. This is a challenge that we have to work on,” Koll said. “India, with its advanced technology and disaster management skills, could be a key player for the South Asian region whenever disasters like this emerge. We should definitely extend all our technical expertise and management support so as to keep the death toll as low as possible.”
“Very high ocean heat content in most of Bay of Bengal, very warm sea surface temperatures (of about 31 degrees Celsius), excellent outflow in upper levels of atmosphere and low shear has aided Mocha’s intensification,” Singh said. “Over Bay of Bengal, sea surface temperature (which rose by 0.8 degree in the past four decades) and ocean heat content is rising continuously, which is providing more conducive conditions for cyclones to intensify to category 5 cyclone, provided atmospheric conditions also remain favourable.”
Cyclone Mocha had a peak intensity of around 240 kmph hours before it started making landfall, India’s weather office said. It is now among the strongest cyclones to form the north Indian Ocean, with marginally lower peak intensity compared to the 1999 super cyclone (259.28 kmph) that hit Odisha coast and nearly as strong as cyclones Amphan, Kyarr and Gonu, according to Met department data.
Mocha would lead to a humanitarian crisis, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warned on Friday. There will be major impacts both ahead and after landfall for potentially hundreds of thousands of the world’s most vulnerable people, the United Nations body had said.
Cox’s Bazaar is home to nearly one million Rohingya refugees. The state of Rakhine in neighbouring Myanmar has about six million people in need of humanitarian assistance. This cyclone’s impact area in Cox’s Bazaar and Rakhine is low-lying and highly prone to flooding.
Mocha crashed through Myanmar and south-eastern Bangladesh on Sunday, sparing sprawling refugee camps but bringing a storm surge to swathes of western Myanmar, where communications were largely cut off, AFP news agency reported.
Amphan in 2020 also had intensified rapidly. Making landfall in the Sunderbans on the India-Bangladesh border, it is estimated to be the costliest tropical cyclone on record in the north Indian Ocean, with economic losses amounting to about $14 billion, according to the WMO. The cyclone caused large-scale evacuation of residents of coastal areas in India and Bangladesh, where 129 lives were lost.
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