Worst cyclone to come closest to Mumbai in over 40 years

ByPrayag Arora-Desai and Mehul R Thakkar, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
May 18, 2021 04:36 AM IST

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) confirmed that Tauktae began crossing Mumbai’s latitude at about 12.37pm on Monday, at a distance of about 120-130km from the coast.

Cylcone Tauktae, an extremely severe cyclonic storm (ESCS) that passed Mumbai shortly after noon on Monday, was the worst cyclone to have skirted the city in at least four decades, leading to a cancellation of flights, bringing sections of the public transportation network to a halt, and disrupting the work-from-home schedules of residents due to power cuts and poor cellphone connectivity.

Passenger buses are stranded on a waterlogged road after heavy rains caused by Cyclone Tauktae in Mumbai on May 17, 2021. (Reuters)
Passenger buses are stranded on a waterlogged road after heavy rains caused by Cyclone Tauktae in Mumbai on May 17, 2021. (Reuters)

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) confirmed that Tauktae began crossing Mumbai’s latitude at about 12.37pm on Monday, at a distance of about 120-130km from the coast. Independent experts said the cyclone, which intensified into an extremely severe storm early on Monday, was likely the first such category of storm to venture this close to the port city since 1891. By comparison, cyclone Nisarga, a severe cyclonic storm (a category of lesser intensity) that made landfall in the state’s Raigad district last June, glanced 110 km off Mumbai’s coast, but left the city largely unscathed.

“It can be safely assumed that in the satellite era -- from 1980 onwards -- Tauktae is the most intense tropical cyclone to venture so close to Mumbai. It is a Category 4 system, as per global standards of the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre whereas Nisarga was a significantly weaker Category 1 tropical cyclone, which in turn had also become weaker by the time it made landfall at the Diveagar coast in Maharashtra,” Akshay Deoras, an independent meteorologist associated with the University of Reading, United Kingdom, said.

Also Read| Explained: How Cyclone Tauktae got its name and what it means

“In November 1948, a severe cyclone had landfall north of Mumbai. The IMD doesn’t mention in their cyclone dataset whether it was an ESCS, but it was probably not. So, if that’s ruled out, Tauktae is the first ESCS to come so close to Mumbai since 1891. It is significant because it may be sooner than 100 years before such an incident happens again,” said Matthew Roxy Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology.

Impact of the storm

When it achieved peak intensity off the Mumbai coast, the cyclone itself was travelling at a speed of 120 knots, or 222kmph, as it travelled north-westward toward Gujarat, unleashing gale winds touching upwards of 100kmph in the city.

Tauktae’s intensity was felt across the city as residents shared videos of fallen trees, broken power cables and choppy waves in the Arabian Sea as wind speeds of 114 km/hour were reported at around 2pm by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s weather station at Afghan Church in Colaba.

Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) closed all flight operations starting 11am on Monday and diverted at least seven planes through the day. Airlines cancelled services to Mumbai, including 34 arrivals and 22 departures, and the airport resumed services late Monday night.

During the day, nearly 20 local trains were cancelled and 50 delayed owing to the disruption in both the Central and Western Railway suburban train networks, due to water-logging and tree falls, while the BrihanMumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) diverted buses on 72 routes in the city due to water-logging in 19 arterial roads.

Eight people were injured in 26 incidents of wall collapses in three separate incidents, while 17 incidents of short circuit and at least 479 tree falls – 158 in south Mumbai alone -- were reported in the city. A wall of house collapsed, injuring four members of a family in Borivali east, while in Andheri, a woman was injured when a slab of a wall fell over her. According to the BMC, the woman’s condition is stable, and she is admitted to a private hospital.

Two people were feared to have drowned in two separate incidents in Mahim and Madh, where 10 people were stuck in their boats due to the rough seas and coast guard had to go to their aid, the BMC disaster management cell confirmed. Some of the survivors swam back to safety.

Also Watch| Cyclone Tauktae: Watch rescue operations by Coast Guard, Navy as boats send SOS

Power supply was interrupted in many areas such as Andheri west, Vile Parle, Kalina, Versova and Kurla. “To ensure the continuity of power supply and mitigate any disruptions owing to the cyclone Tauktae and heavy rains, team AEML took all the necessary precautions. Our specialized Quick Response Teams were on standby and ensured, wherever there were power disruption complaints, the supply was restored with the minimum interruption,” a spokesperson for Adani Electricity Mumbai Limited (AEML) which distributes power to the suburbs, said.

Eastern suburbs such as Mulund, Bhandup and Vikhroli, which the state-owned Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL) supplies power to, were also affected. The company later said in a statement said that disruptions were experienced in other districts too, including Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri, and that it aimed to restore normalcy by late Monday with a focus on Covid Care Centres and vaccination centres.

BMC officials said that south Mumbai was the most hit as the cyclone went from south to north further towards Gujarat, leading to severe water-logging in areas including Oval Maidan, Warden Road, Colaba as well as low-lying areas such as Hindmata, King’s Circle, and Dadar TT in central parts of the city.

Civic activist Nikhil Desai from Dadar said: “Like every year even this year we had water logging in King’s Circle and Hindmata area. Though the rainfall was not expected this early but this shows that we are not prepared for the monsoon like every year. I do not know how much underground rainwater storage tank work is completed, but it is the truth that minutes of rainfall resulted in Hindmata and King Circle’s Gandhi Market got flooded.”

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