Phailin has grown at one of the fastest rates every recorded, going from a tropical storm to a Category 4 cyclone in only 24 hours. Yesterday, Friday Oct 11, 2013, it became the equivalent of a Category 5 cyclone with sustained wind speeds of 260 Kmph. This brings it at par with the super cyclone that hit the Odisha coast in 1999.
Atmospheric scientists believe that a catastrophic storm surge of up to 6 meters may now be a certainty and will devastate areas near the cyclone landfall and to it’s northeast, going as far as the Gangetic Delta region of West Bengal and Bangladesh. This will push an inexorable wall of water inland and coupled with an expected 1 meter of additional rainfall on top of the already heavy monsoon the region has witnessed this year, we could be looking at a major flooding problem.
And Phailin may not have finished intensifying yet!
Phailin is now forecast to break the Indian Ocean intensity record set by the 1999 Cyclone just prior to its Saturday landfall, according to the US Navy’s Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Even if Phailin does not make the intensity records, it is widely felt among experts that the storm serge will be immense. An American specialist, Hal Needham, wrote on his personal blog that recent research shows that the strength of a storm 18 hours before landfall is the best predictor of its peak storm surge. In India and neighbouring Bangladesh, where many millions live within a few meters of sea level, mostly in weak shanty huts, the sheer size of Phailin will ensure that many lacs of homes will be inundated. A storm surge of 1 to 3 meters could extend for hundreds of kilometers northeast of the cyclone’s landfall, extending the area of devastation and making Phailin a potential humanitarian catastrophe in the making
Despite international consensus that Phailin is very very bad news, the Indian Meteorology Department (IMD) continues to gauge Phailin conservatively. The latest forecast from the IMD indicates wind speeds about 40 Kmph below international estimates and a storm surge at least half that predicted by international scientists and cyclone tracking agencies. Use this link to get to the latest bulletins from the IMD: http://www.imd.gov.in/section/nhac/dynamic/cwind.pdf. This could potentially be attributed to differences in how these are computed by different agencies.
The Odisha Government has already evacuated lacs of people from low lying areas and are making arrangements for disaster management. The scope and effectiveness of their efforts will be apparent only when they are actually put to the test and it will be too late then to correct any lapses.
Massive pricing gouging on food articles is already being reported by the local media.
My parents are luckily here with us in Mumbai but my grand parents are in Bhubaneswar along with my aunt and her family. They are holding the fort there and are battening down for the cyclone. We are in constant touch with them and they are preparing for the worst. Our hopes and prayers are with them and all other fellow citizens living in harm’s way. May the Lord Jagannath look after the land and it’s people.