Natural Disasters

Cyclone Phethai makes landfall three hours early, kills 1

While weather agencies have upped their forecasting science, it’s yet to convert into last mile communication to the vulnerable

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Monday 17 December 2018
Credit: Getty Images

Cyclone Phethai made landfall near Andhra Pradesh's Katrenikona around 12:25 pm on Monday. The wind speeds during landfall were around 80 km/hr which means its intensity decreased before making landfall. The IMD had predicted this decrease in intensity but the cyclone has come a few hours earlier than what the IMD prediction. One person has died in Andhra Pradesh due to a landslide caused by heavy rain, say media reports.

The authorities have issued a red alert for the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh and Yanam district of Puducherry citing heavy to very heavy rainfall in many places and extremely heavy rainfall in some places.

Also, Odisha has been put on orange alert as the storm will bring rainfall to many areas of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal.

The severe cyclone was located 160 km southeast of Machilipatnam and 190 km south of Kakinada at 5:30 Monday morning, according to the latest cyclone update of the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

The IMD predicts that the storm will move northwards and cross over to land around the coastal town of Kakinada. The forecast was that the severe cyclone would decrease in intensity just before landfall and make landfall as a cyclonic storm with wind speeds of 70-90 km/hr with occasional gusts as high as 100 km/hr. Phethai will be the fourth cyclone to make landfall on the Indian mainland this year after Cyclone Daye, very severe cyclone Titli, severe cyclone Gaja and the seventh cyclone in the Indian Ocean region.

The districts of east and west Godavari, Vishakhapatnam, Krishna, Guntur, Vizianagaram & Srikakulam are going to be most affected by rainfall, wind and storm surges of up to 1m. The IMD has predicted damages to hutments, roads, communication line and trees in these districts. It has also issued a warning to fishermen to remain away from the sea all along the Eastern coast because of rough sea conditions.

The cyclone is being closely watched by the Doppler Weather Radars in Machilipatnam, Chennai and Vishakhapatnam. These radars gather data from the cyclone and the prevailing environmental conditions over the sea surface to give accurate models of the cyclone tracks and a measure of its intensities.

Apart from this, the IMD has also recently incorporated ocean-atmosphere coupled modeling for forecasting cyclones. This new model was used to forecast very severe cyclones Titli and Luban and severe cyclone Gaja. These steps were taken after the rapid intensification of cyclone Ockhi last year took the administration and the scientific community by surprise. It was the first cyclone where such rapid intensification was observed, says KJ Ramesh, director general of IMD.

Even after this, an accurate prediction of cyclones is a far cry. Even in the case of Titli, Luban and Gaja the IMD was wrong on certain accounts. For example, Gaja made landfall much later than predicted and remained a severe cyclone despite the IMD saying that it will de-intensify into a cyclone just before making landfall.

The IMD made a similar prediction about cyclone Phethai. It remains to be seen if the IMD can get it right this time.

The intensification of Gaja had led to greater losses than previously expected and people even complained that the issued warnings were not enough. This dearth of warnings combined with some delay in providing relief had led to protests in certain affected districts of Tamil Nadu.

Even though the IMD and other scientific agencies in India have made much progress on the science of forecasting, much still needs to be done on last mile and last minute communication to communities most vulnerable to such extreme weather events.

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