The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has warned that the cyclonic storm Vayu, which is expected to make landfall near Veraval in Gujarat on Thursday morning, could cause widespread damage. The “very severe” storm has a prevailing wind speed of 140 to 155 kmph, gusting to 165 kmph. At the time it is expected to cross the coast, the speed is expected to rise to 145-155 kmph, gusting at 170 kmph.
The IMD has warned of a storm surge touching the heights of 1.5 to 2 metres above the astronomical tides, likely to inundate the low lying coastal areas of Kutch, Devbhumi Dwarka, Porbandar, Junagadh, Diu, Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts. It has warned that a storm of such intensity can cause total destruction of thatched houses, and extensive damage to kutcha ones, and some damage to pucca ones. There is potential threat from flying objects, bending/uprooting of power and communication poles, major damage to roads and minor disruption of railways, overhead power lines and signalling systems. Standing crops and orchards are expected to face massive damage. Trees could get uprooted and boats could get detached from their moorings. “Visibility will be severely affected,” the IMD said.
The IMD has suggested a total suspension of fishing operations and evacuation of people from low-lying areas. “People in affected areas should remain indoors. Movement in motor boats and small ships is unsafe,” the IMD has warned.
The IMD classifies cyclonic storms on a scale of seven, with the lowest being a depression and the most severe being a super cyclonic storm. A Very Severe Cyclonic Storm, like Vayu, is the third most severe, typically experiencing winds of 118-165 kmph.
According to the National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project (NCRMP), the Indian subcontinent is the worst-affected region in the world due to tropical cyclones, with a 7,516km long coastline, including islands which are exposed to 10 per cent of the world's tropical cyclones. The Indian cyclonic occurrence is usually in May-June and October-November, with a primary peak in November and a secondary peak in May. Although cyclones affect the entire coast of India, the east coast is more prone compared to the west. According to NCRMP, an analysis of cyclones from 1891-2000 show that nearly 308 cyclones (out of which 103 were severe) affected the east coast, while 48 crossed the west coast. Of them, 24 were severe cyclonic storms. Out of the cyclones that developed in the Bay of Bengal, over 58 per cent approached and crossed the east coast in October and November. Only 25 per cent of the cyclones that developed over the Arabian Sea approached the west coast.
Recurring cyclones account for large number of deaths, loss of livelihood, loss of public and private property, and severe damage to infrastructure. “Broad scale assessment of the population at risk suggests that an estimated 32 crore people, which accounts for almost third of the country's total population, are vulnerable to cyclone-related hazards. Climate change and the resultant sea-level rise can significantly increase the vulnerability of coastal population,'' the NCRMP note says.
In recent years, however, a good warning system, teamed with co-ordinated evacuation initiatives, has reduced the loss of lives significantly. The United Nations general secretary for Disaster Risk Reduction, Mami Mizutori, recently appreciated India's efforts in handling the cyclone Fani earlier this year. She appreciated India's zero casualty policy for cyclones and the pinpoint accuracy of early warning systems.
During Fani, which hit Odisha early last month, 1.2 million people (the population of Mauritius) were evacuated in less than 48 hours. The death toll was minimised to 64. Compare this with the supercyclone of 1999, which claimed nearly 10,000 lives.