India Braces for Second Major Cyclone in 2 Weeks

ON 05/25/2021 AT 11:14 PM

After record-setting Cyclone Tauktae slammed ashore on May 18, 2021 on the west coast of India, the even more powerful Cyclone Yaas has just made landfall in Odisha on the country’s east coast.

Cyclone Yaas in the Bay of Bengal

Cyclone Yaas in the Bay of Bengal, by satellite. Image captured May 25, 2021. Photo: NASA Worldview

India is just now receiving the second of an extreme weather one-two punch combination, thanks to long-term changes in tropical weather conditions and superheated oceans on either side of the country.

Today’s blast comes via Cyclone Yaas, which just days ago was a relatively weak tropical storm slowly moving north and east in the Bay of Bengal. Yaas is currently showing peak wind speeds at 190 kmph (118 mph). It came ashore in Purba Medinapur in West Bengal and is currently on track to plow through on a track heading up to the state of Bihar.

According to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, an estimated 11 lakh (1.1 million) people have been evacuated in the state, in anticipation of severe wind damage, storm surges, and flooding. Other estimates suggest local community mobilizations have moved as many as 20 lakh (2 million) out of the predicted storm track.

The will fortunately miss Kolkata, West Bengal’s largest city, by a distance of 300 kilometers (186 miles). That city is still reeling from damage from May 2020’s Super Cyclone Amphan, which logged record damages, particularly near the important major international airport in the city, where many aircraft were still on the ground when the storm made landfall.

This comes after the eye of Cyclone Tauktae came ashore in Maharashtra, the easternmost state of India which includes Mumbai, a major business and financial capital, on May 18.

That storm made the record books with multiple firsts for the region:

Rapid intensification at record speeds. Cyclone Tauktae went from being a Very Severe Cyclone Storm (VSCS) to an Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm (ESCS) in just 48 hours. It happened so quickly there was little chance for forecasts to get evacuation warnings out in time.

A record 300 mm (11.8 inches) of rain just in one day at Mumbai’s Juhu Airport, on May 18. That is the highest rainfall recorded in a single day in the area since the previous high of 191 mm (7.5 inches) recorded on May 20, 2000. It is also of note that in the last ten years there was no more than 3 mm (0.12 inches) of rain on any single day in the month.

The closest landfall to Mumbai for any Tropical Cyclone since records have been kept. This storm came within 150 kilometers (93 miles) of the city.

A record wind gust with 108 kmph (67 mph) speeds, the highest measured in the last 70 years.

Extensive damage from massive flooding and wind gusts. Among the damage was the uprooting of 600 trees within Mumbai, mass property damage from water and wind, and widespread power outages.

Cyclones such as Tauktae and Yaas have been uncommon on either coast of India for decades. Yet last year, in May 2020, Amphan became the first Super Cyclonic Storm to hit the Bay of Bengal and the most powerful ever. Like the current Cyclone Yaas, this one came ashore in Odisha but with building-crushing peak wind speeds of 260 km/h (160 mph). Amphan was also the most expensive cyclone ever recorded in the North Indian Ocean, creating over US $13 billion of damage. Just one month later, in June 2020, Cyclone Nisarga became the strongest cyclone ever to hit the state of Maharashtra on the east coast in the month of June since 1891. It came ashore with peak sustained winds of 140 km/h (85 mph) and caused approximately US $800 million in damage.

Superheating of the Arabian sea on the west and the Bay of Bengal on the east, caused by global heating and the climate crisis, is blamed for the increased number and ferocity of cyclones like this along India’s coastlines. It is also part of a long-term shift in climate which has already seen one significant shift in direction and timing of the critical monsoon season, back in 2019. Climate scientists predict the number and speeds of these storms will continue to increase, as well a major permanent disruption in the monsoon path and timing in India by perhaps less than ten years from now.

Regional authorities are especially concerned about potential damage as Yaas makes its way into India, not just because of the potential strength with which it is hitting but also because of the timing of the month.

“Cyclone Yaas is coinciding with spring tide and the full moon, which has resulted in rising water levels at Digha as well as the Sunderbans from Tuesday,” said West Bengal Chief Minister Banjerjee yesterday. Banerjee will be monitoring operations related to the storm and its aftermath at a specially outfitted “war room” in Nabanna.

Signs of the storm’s potential power came with thunderstorms and powerful rain on its perimeter yesterday. A major wall collapse caused by heavy rains in Hooghly is a scene likely to be repeated in multiple locations as the storm travels further inland. As of Tuesday night, parts of north Odisha were already experiencing peak wind speeds of 100-110 kmph (62-68 mph).

According to the India Meteorological Department before landfall happened, Yaas was expected to come ashore with tidal waves of 2-4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) high. Wind speeds of 155-165 kmph (96-102 mph) and gusts up to 185 kmph (115 mph).

As of this writing, the landfall process has begun, as of 9 AM IST on May 26, according to a just-released IMD report:

Cylone Yaas on May 26, 2021

IMD Tweet as of approximately 9:30 AM IST on May 26, 2021 Photo: India Meteorological Department, via Twitter

In preparation for the storm, the Odisha, Bhubaneswar airport suspended operations from 11 pm on Tuesday. It will stay closed until 5 am Thursday, May 27. Kolkata airport shut down at 8:30 am Wednesday, with hopes for restarting its flight services at 7:45 pm Wednesday.

Ports in Dharma and Paradip have put operations on hold since May 24.