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Super cyclonic storm Phailin: the strongest cyclone ever in the North Indian Ocean Basin

Phailin (the Thai word for sapphire) is officially the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded to make landfall over India. Phailin had begun as a tropical storm with 105kph (65mph) winds, but rapidly…

Cyclone Phailin hit the Indian state of Orisha on Saturday night. EPA/STR

Phailin (the Thai word for sapphire) is officially the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded to make landfall over India.

Phailin had begun as a tropical storm with 105kph (65mph) winds, but rapidly intensified on October 10 2013 to 250kph (155mph). It was upgraded to a super cyclonic storm, which is equivalent to Category 5 in the Saffir-Simpson Scale for the North Western Atlantic Ocean (NWA) Basin.

A combination of exceptionally warm water (28C) and low wind-shear (4-8kps/2.5-5mps) over the Bay of Bengal provided the ideal conditions for cyclone Phailin to maintain its strength. Moving north-westward, it made landfall over the coastal areas between Odisha and Andhra Pradesh on Saturday October 12.

Cyclone disaster management in India

Much of India’s current approach to preparation was developed during the 1999 cyclone in Odisha. Disaster preparations mainly include cyclone warning and evacuation.

To mitigate a potential disaster from Phailin, the Indian central and state governments have shown huge improvements in disaster preparation.

The Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik sought defence forces' help in preparing to tackle the cyclone. State disaster status was enacted, and the National Disaster Rapid Action Force (NDRAF) and Odisha Disaster Rapid Action Force (ODRAF) were put in force. Puja holiday celebrations were cancelled and a large scale evacuation undertaken. More than 260,000 people were moved to high ground and half a million to shelter.

However there was some confusion during the process of early warning. India has no aircraft reconnaissance comparable to the “hurricane hunters” we have in the North Western Atlantic, so the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) seemed to underestimate the cyclone wind speed at 80kph (50mph) and storm surge at 1m (3ft). These were far less than the Joint Warning Typhoon Center’s (JTWC) estimation of wind speeds at 177-185kph (110-115mph), meaning also that a 1m storm surge was unlikely to be true.

This discrepancy in predictions could cause distrust of the official forecast and delay in the process of evacuation.

Will Cyclone Phailin be a natural disaster?

Phailin made landfall about 160km southwest of where the 1999 Odisha cyclone hit. The storm surge was predicted to be 11 meters high.

Though the area where Phailin made landfall is not low-lying, the convergent coastline and the shallow offshore waters around Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur can amplify the impounding water which could cause huge flooding.

These areas are particularly vulnerable to flooding due to poor drainage and soil already saturated by the active summer monsoon. At its landfall, Phailin brings in a rainfall depth of 200-400mm along the coastal areas.

The death toll should be lower than the approximately 10,000 killed by cyclone Odisha in 1999. However, the financial losses could be huge.

With high population density, the exposure to risk is high. The low- and mid-rise buildings in rural areas were traditionally built of bricks and other primitive materials, so their roofs and walls could be completely blown away or partially collapsed under the pressure difference caused by gale force winds on the windward and leeward sides of the buildings. Modern high rise buildings in urban areas use confined masonry and stricter building code enforcement.

The insured losses due to stopping cargo operations, train cancellation and loss of lives and property could be billions.

Are cyclones in the North Indian Ocean becoming more active?

On average only 7% of world’s cyclones are formed over the Indian Ocean Basin. It is the quietest ocean basin for spawning cyclones in the world.

But Phailin is the second tropical cyclone over North Indian Ocean in 2013, and 26 of the 35 deadliest cyclones in world history have been Bay of Bengal storms.

Super-cyclone Phailin was huge in diameter (about 500km), with a central pressure of 918mb and maximum sustained wind of 258kph: it is the strongest over the North Indian Ocean basin in recorded history.

Super-typhoon Usagi, the strongest typhoon over the North Western Pacific Ocean Basin during 2013, affected 3.5 million people, and killed at least 25. It caused more than $500 million losses in China alone.

Some will ask if global warming is causing more intense tropical cyclones. Recent research showed that severe cyclones have become more frequent in the North Indian Ocean during the intense cyclone period of the year (May, October and November). The rate of intensification of tropical disturbances to severe cyclone stage has shown an upward trend.

However there is a slight decline of annual cyclone numbers. Number of cyclones is related more to El Niño phenomena (2-5 year oscillation) than to global warming. The North Western Atlantic Ocean has had a relatively quiet hurricane season, so far, in 2013. Globally we still have roughly similar annual number of tropical cyclones to average.

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13 Comments sorted by

  1. Mike Hansen

    Mr.

    The research that you mention is consistent with the 2011 IPCC SREX report on extreme weather.

    "Average tropical cyclone maximum wind speed is likely to increase, although increases may not occur in all ocean basins. It is likely that the global frequency of tropical cyclones will either decrease or remain essentially unchanged."
    http://ipcc-wg2.gov/SREX/images/uploads/SREX-All_FINAL.pdf

    As Professor Kerry Emanuel from MIT explains
    "We should not be worried about the frequency of hurricanes…

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  2. Marc Hendrickx

    Geologist: The Con is a bad Monty Python sketch, for climate sense see: http://www.thegwpf.org/

    The author might appreciate this interesting article from 29 March 1878 helps place this storm into perspective....

    http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/28396689

    INDIAN STORMS...extract...

    A more destructive agency than cyclones, however, is the storm-wave, the almost invariable attendant on
    the former. A head of water is naturally heaped up in the central part of the vortex, and when this reaches a low coast, with a shallow shelving fore- shore, such as are the coasts of Bengal…

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    1. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Marc Hendrickx

      They would have certainly been some events not to have been experienced Marc and as tragic as that loss of life is, it could possibly pale into insignificance if the numbers were to be extrapolated on the bais of what population and population densities might be now compared to that of some one and a half centuries ago.

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    2. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Marc Hendrickx

      Hendrickx First Law of Climate Science Denial - "Any recorded weather extreme will always be surpassed by vaguely related anecdotes of events prior to the period of modern instrumentation".

      In this case, he is surpassed himself in finding an English gentlemen's tall tales and true (a lot like Marc's comments here) from the "Pall Mall Gazette"

      The evidence is "According to tradition,the storm-wave of the 7th of October, 1787, rose to a height of forty feet in the Hooghly, and swept away 300,000…

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    3. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Greg North

      Greg North continuing his tradition of not reading the articles that he trolls.

      Hendrickx's anecdotal evidence turned out to be nonsense.

      But as the article explains the real and record breaking 1999 cyclone Odisha killed 15,000 people.

      As a result, this time India is better prepared. There has been plenty of warming from the Indian meteorological service, the authorities have been making plans for a number of days and 500,000 people have been evacuated.

      So your attempt to build up the death toll from the non-existent 1737 cyclone would have been tosh even if it had existed. And all you had to do is read the article.

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    4. Marc Hendrickx

      Geologist: The Con is a bad Monty Python sketch, for climate sense see: http://www.thegwpf.org/

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Mike,
      Seems even a simple history lesson is too much for your ideological founded position on CAGW to bear.

      The article does not get the dates wrong. Check the original newspaper Text.

      Ps perhaps some Valium might help calm the nerves

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    5. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Marc Hendrickx

      Hilarious.

      In an attempt to cover his tracks, the troll has gone back to the user editable newspaper digitisation service and changed the date to the correct 1737.
      http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/28396689

      But his original copy and paste from yesterday (see above) shows the incorrect 1787 - "According to tradition,the storm-wave of the 7th of October, 1787, rose to a height of forty feet in the Hooghly, and swept away 300,000 human beings"

      Can I remind every one again of the problems…

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    6. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Marc Hendrickx

      Marc,

      "The article does not get the dates wrong"

      Yes they do. And 300,000 deaths...lol

      Ps perhaps some research might help

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    7. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Marc says:

      "Seems even a simple history lesson is too much for your ideological founded position on CAGW to bear"

      Yeah Mike you are so ideologically blinded you refuse to accept a chinese whispers newspaper article written nearly 150 years after the event at face value!! You should be more balanced like Marc..... who does! ;)

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    8. Marc Hendrickx

      Geologist: The Con is a bad Monty Python sketch, for climate sense see: http://www.thegwpf.org/

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      The Pall Mall Gazette: 1. Mike Hansen: 0.

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    9. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Marc Hendrickx

      Science 1, denier 0

      More debunking of the climate science denier and his anecdote.

      "The 1737 Calcutta cyclone is also mistakenly attributed with a deathtoll of 300,000 people. However, the population of Calcutta at the time was less than 10,000, and not for a further century did the population grow to 30,000. The number of burials in St. Annes Church, Calcutta, was a few dozen, only 10% higher in 1737 than in the preceding and following decades."

      http://cires.colorado.edu/~bilham/1737Earthquake.html

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    10. Nick Kermode

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Mike, in the interest of accuracy that quote is not from that paper. Also the population of 30,000 100 years later is wildly inaccurate. According to census numbers there were 229,714 people by 1837. The actual quote is...

      "The number of claimed earthquake fatalities far exceeds the number of people that lived within the walls of
      Calcutta at the time. Moreover, the 104 burials recorded in the St. Anne's Church register at Calcutta for 1737
      (Hyde, 1901), though higher than in previous years and reflecting mortalities in part of the Christian population and
      little of the native population, exceeds the mean annual number of burials for the preceeding and following decades
      by only 21%"

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