Historically prone to cyclones

26 of the 35 deadliest tropical cyclones in world history have been Bay of Bengal storms

By Soma Basu
Published: Friday 11 October 2013


A satellite-based measure of Phailin’s (pronounced 'pie-reen', not 'pie-leen', the Thai word for sapphire) strength is estimated as the storm’s central pressure at 910.7 millibars, with sustained winds of 175 mph (280 kmph). If those numbers were verified by official forecast agencies, they would place Phailin at par with 2005′s Hurricane Katrina, and break the record for the most intense cyclone in Indian Ocean's recorded history, says weather historian Christopher Burt.

India's eastern coast has a long history of devastating cyclones. The worst of these (since 1990) was the “Great Orissa Cyclone of 1999” (Orissa state in north-eastern India is now known as Odisha). This cyclone killed 9,000-10,000 people when it made its landfall on October 19, 1999 with 155 mph winds and a storm surge of 26 feet (8 metre). The storm was classified as a ‘Super Cyclonic Storm’ in the nomenclature of tropical storms that affect the North Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal, and the Arabian Sea.

Jeff Masters, hurricane hunter and meteorologist who writes a blog for Weather Underground, says there is good reason to be concerned when a major tropical cyclone forms in the Bay of Bengal.

He says 26 of the 35 deadliest tropical cyclones in world history have been Bay of Bengal storms. During the past two centuries, 42 per cent of Earth's tropical cyclone-associated deaths have occurred in Bangladesh, and 27 per cent have occurred in India.

Phailin compared with 1999 super cyclone

“Phailin is likely to be the strongest tropical cyclone to affect India in fourteen years, since the great 1999 Odisha Cyclone. Although Phailin is expected to hit the same province of India that the great 1999 Odisha Cyclone hit, Phailin's landfall location is predicted to fall about 100 miles (170 km) farther to the south, in a region where the coast is not as low-lying. This should keep the death toll due to storm surge much lower compared to the 1999 Odisha Cyclone, where more than 70 per cent of the deaths occurred due to the storm surge,” he explains.


The latest storm surge forecast from India Meteorological Department predicts a peak surge under 3', but this is much too low, considering Phailin's recent round of rapid intensification. Phailin's heavy rains will be capable of causing great destruction, as did the rains from the 1999 Odisha cyclone. More than 2,000 of the deaths at that time occurred because of fresh water flooding in the town of Padmapur, located more than 150 miles (241 km) from the coast. Deforestation was cited as a contributing cause to these destructive floods that killed 36 per cent of the town's population, Masters explains.

Burt says that details (like barometric pressure and wind speeds) for historic cyclones that have affected India in the past (prior to 1990) are sketchy. The lowest barometric pressure ever measured in the Bay of Bengal was during a severe cyclone in 1833 when the British vessel SS Duke of York reported a pressure of 891mb (26.30”) while passing through the eye of a storm in the bay. As Masters mentioned, the Odisha Cyclone of 1999 bottomed out at 912 mb (26.93”) and was the most intense such to strike India in at least the past 35 years or so (note that Phailin has apparently become even more intense if the 910 mb figure stands). The death toll of the 1999 storm of over 9,000 was the greatest in India since the so-called Devi Taluk cyclone that killed 14,200 in Andhra Pradesh on November 12, 1977.

Most of the deadliest tropical storms on earth have occurred in the Bay of Bengal when tremendous storm surges have swamped the low-lying coastal regions of Bangladesh, India, and Burma, says Burt. The worst of all was the Great Boha Cyclone of November 12-13, 1970 when a 40-foot storm surge overwhelmed the delta islands of the Brahmaputra and Ganges rivers in Bangladesh. An estimated 300,000-500,000 perished. This storm is also considered to have produced the greatest storm surge of any Indian Ocean cyclone although similar surges may have occurred during the 1733 and 1876 cyclones.


History of cyclones in Odisha
SI.No. Date/Year Category of Cyclone Landfall and loss
1. 7-12 October,1737 Super Cyclone Crossed West Bengal Coast over Sunderbans
2. 31 October, 1831 Very Severe Cyclonic Storm Crossed Odisha Coast near Balasore, Loss of life-50,000
3. 2-5 October,1864 Very Severe Cyclonic Storm Crossed West Bengal Coast near Contai
4. 1-2 November, 1864 Very Severe Cyclonic Storm Crossed Andhra pradesh near Machilipatnam
5. 22 September, 1885 Super Cyclone Crossed Odisha Coast at False Point, Loss of life- 5000
6. 14-16 October, 1942 Very Severe Cyclonic Storm Crossed West Bengal Coast near Contai
7. 8-11 October, 1967 Very Severe Cyclonic Storm Crossed Odisha Coast between Puri and Paradeep
8. 26-30 October, 1971 Very Severe Cyclonic Storm Crossed Odish Coast near Paradeep, Loss of life- 10,000
9. 14-20 November,1977 Super Cyclone Crossed Andhra Coast near Nizampatnam
10. 4-11 May,1990 Super Cyclone Crossed Andhra Coast about 40 Km S-W of Machlipatnam
11. 5-6 November, 1996 Very Severe Cyclonic Storm Crossed Andhra Coast near Kakinada
12. 25-31 October, 1999 Super Cyclone Crossed Odisha Coast near Paradeep at noon of 29 October

State level vulnerability assessment and adaptation strategies: a case study of Orissa

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Importance of upper ocean heat content in the intensification and translation speed of cyclones over the Bay of Bengal

Mangroves protected villages and reduced death toll during Indian super cyclone

Storm protection by mangroves in Orissa: an analysis of the 1999 super cyclone

Facing sudden impact (Experience of Orissa super cyclone of 1999)

Evaluation study of rehabilitation & reconstruction process in post super cyclone, Orissa

An empirical model for predicting the decay of tropical cyclone wind speed after landfall over the Indian region
Study on super cyclone in Orissa 1999 with special reference to early warning system
Epidemiology of tropical cyclones: The dynamics of disaster, disease, and development
Tropical cyclones in a warmer world


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