India avoids the worst of Cyclone Phailin with rapid preparation

• October 15, 2013
cyclone phailin

Aftermath of Cyclone Phailin in the state of Odisha, India. Creative Commons: EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, 2013

Thanks to effective weather forecasting and the rapid coordination of disaster preparation in India, Cyclone Phailin was not as deadly as its predecessors — a hopeful sign for adaptation to natural disasters made worse due to climate change.

Cyclone Phailin made landfall in the Odisha region of the eastern coast of India on October 12th, carving a path of damage to homes, farms, and businesses that has impacted the livelihoods of 9 million people. Storm surges were as high as 3.5 meters (11 feet).

The storm matched the strength and intensity of several other previous cyclones in the Bay of Bengal that caused tens of thousands of fatalities, particularly the Odisha cyclone in 1999 that killed 10,000. The intensity of Cyclone Phailin was due at least in part to unusually high water temperatures in the Bay of Bengal.

The death toll of Cyclone Phailin is estimated to be at least 21 people, a remarkably low number considering its strength.

The Indian Meteorological Department forecasted the landfall of the cyclone three days in advance, providing an early warning that set in motion the largest evacuation effort in India’s history. Over 800,000 people were moved out of harm’s way and into storm shelters. A great deal of India’s disaster preparation plan and existing storm shelters were created in response to the devastation of the 1999 cyclone of similar magnitude.

Though land and infrastructure still suffered damages in the cyclone’s wake, it’s likely that thousands of lives were saved with the rapid coordination of disaster preparation. This could set an important regional example for an effective response to severe weather forecasting, an issue that’s only growing in importance as climate change creates the conditions for more extreme weather and severe storms.

In the Bay of Bengal, weather trends that create the necessary conditions for cyclones to form and build strength have been on the rise due to climate change. For example, warm ocean temperatures, at least above 26.5°C, increase the amount of rain that a cyclone can carry. In the Bay of Bengal, sea surface temperatures have been rising in the past few decades — creating the conditions that are not only more conducive to cyclones in general, but to cyclones that bring heavier precipitation.

Climate change is an issue to which India is particularly vulnerable. India will be hosting a panel discussion on climate change in India on Twitter on Friday October 18th at 5pm IST (7:30am EDT/12:30pm BST).

Join in to ask questions on Twitter using #ClimateChat, or listen in to the conversation on Google Hangout.

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About the Author

Emily is a graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland with a B.A. in psychology. While in school, she spent her time leading environmental and social justice campaigns. She recently worked for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network as a grassroots organizer for a moratorium on natural gas fracking in Maryland.

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