Amphan: the first tropical cyclone of 2020

Amphan, the first tropical cyclone of the 2020 season in the North Indian basin, made landfall on May 20, 2020. The deadly storm slammed ashore near the border of eastern India and Bangladesh, delivering substantial storm surge to coastal areas.

The storm is visible in this natural-color image, acquired at 1 p.m. India Standard Time (07:30 Universal Time) on May 20 with the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. The extremely severe cyclonic storm had sustained winds around the time measuring 90 knots (165 kilometers/105 miles per hour)—equivalent to a category 2 storm on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale.

Amphan cyclone satalite image
satellite image of Amphan cyclone

Winds decreased as Amphan moved north-northeast over land, but the storm remained powerful enough to destroy buildings, uproot trees and crops, and down powerlines. According to news reports, the winds pushed up a 5-meter (16-foot) storm surge that flooded coastal areas, including the Sundarbans, an area of mangrove forests and critical tiger habitat in the delta spanning the India-Bangladesh border.

On May 18, Amphan quickly intensified into a category 5 storm with sustained winds of 265 kilometers (165 miles) per hour as it churned over the Bay of Bengal. Amphan and other cyclones in the North Indian Ocean with winds surpassing 220 kilometers (140 miles) per hour are considered “super cyclonic”—the highest classification in the basin. Prior to Amphan, the last super cyclonic storm was Odisha in 1999.

Tropical cyclones are less likely to form in the Indian Ocean than in the Atlantic or Pacific basins. But storms that do form in the warm, shallow waters of the Bay of Bengal have a reputation for being unusually destructive. That’s in part because the Bay is semi-enclosed, so storms that form there are likely to strike land because they have not outlet for moving back out to sea. Also, much of the coastline is densely populated and low-lying, so damage tends to be considerable when storms make landfall.

We have few images and videos of destruction

Amphan destruction
Amphan destruction
Amphan destruction
Amphan destruction

As extremely severe cyclone ‘Amphan’ entered the Indian shores in West Bengal and Odisha on Wednesday, lakhs of people have been evacuated from vulnerable areas and shifted to safety.

As cyclone Amphan, which is pronounced as Um-pun, rumbled towards the Indian coastline, we have tried to answer some of your most frequently asked questions.

what is Amphan's present status?

As per the latest update issued by the India Meteorological Department (IMD), an extremely severe cyclone packing winds of up to 190 kmph roared into West Bengal Wednesday, dumping heavy rain and leaving a trail of destruction that left at least two people dead. After making landfall at 2.30 pm between Digha in West Bengal and and Hatiya island in Bangladesh, cyclone Amphan cut a swathe through the coastal areas, flattening fragile dwellings, uprooting trees and electric poles.

What was the impact of the first super cyclone in Bay of Bengal in 1999?

In 1999, Odisha was ravaged by a super cyclone that left around 10,000 people dead along its trail of destruction. One of the powerful cyclones of the 20th century, the 1999 super cyclone had also damaged nearly 20 lakh hours, killed about two lakh livestock and affected about 2.5 to 3 million people, leaving large tracts of agricultural land unfit for cultivation for a long time due to salinity.

What are the weather forecasts for Odisha and West Bengal?

As per the IMD,  intense rainfall was recorded in several areas of Puri, Khurda, Jagatsinghpur, Cuttack, Kendrapara, Jajpur, Ganjam, Ganjam, Bhadrak and Balasore districts since Tuesday. The rains and high-velocity winds will ebb away in Odisha by late Wednesday night by when the cyclone will likely have caused massive damage to standing crops, plantations and infrastructure, IMD DG Dr M Mohapatra said. He said tidal surge of up to five metres could occur in North and South 24 Parganas and East Midnapore districts that could submerge areas in a radius of 15 km. The strong winds and rain could continue till tomorrow in West Bengal, he said.

Villagers on the Bay of Bengal coast walk as they are evacuated by volunteers as a precaution against Cyclone Amphan at Bakkhali, South 24 Parganas, West Bengal, India, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. The powerful cyclone  was moving toward India and Bangladesh on Tuesday as authorities tried to evacuate millions of people while maintaining social distancing. (AP Photo/Mehaboob Gazi)
Villagers on the Bay of Bengal coast walk as they are evacuated by volunteers as a precaution against Cyclone Amphan at Bakkhali, South 24 Parganas, West Bengal, India, Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Rainfall at most places with heavy to very heavy falls at a few places and extremely heavy falls at isolated places likely over Gangetic West Bengal (east and west Medinipur, south and north 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hoogli, Kolkata and adjoining districts) on May 20 and isolated heavy rain over interior districts on May 21.

Which other states are likely to witness a change in its weather pattern?

The IMD has forecast that Sikkim will witness light to moderate rainfall at most places with heavy to very heavy falls over most of the districts of Sikkim on May 21. The turbulence will likely extend to Assam and Meghalaya, triggering heavy to very heavy rain on Thursday.

Fishermen should avoid these sea routes on these days?

A total suspension of fishing operations has been advised till May 20. Fishermen have been advised not to venture into North Bay of Bengal and adjoining central Bay of Bengal during May 19 to 20. Additionally, fishermen are advised against venturing into north Bay of Bengal along and off north Odisha, West Bengal and adjoining Bangladesh coasts till May 20.

Puri: Fishermen pull their boat back to shore amidst rough sea, ahead of the landfall of Cyclone Amphan, at Puri beach, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (PTI Photo)
(PTI19-05-2020_000165B)
Puri: Fishermen pull their boat back to shore amidst rough sea, ahead of the landfall of Cyclone Amphan, at Puri beach, Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

A storm surge of about 4-5 metres above astronomical tide is likely to inundate low lying areas of south and north 24 Parganas and about 3-4 meters over the low lying areas of East Medinipur district of West Bengal during the time of landfall.

What all damage is expected in Odisha and Bengal?

In Bengal districts such as East Medinipur, South and North 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hoogli, Kolkata, extensive damage is expected to all types of kutcha houses and some damage to old badly managed pucca structure. Also, there is a potential threat from flying objects. Extensive uprooting of communication and power poles is also likely along with disruption of rail/road at several places. Aside from these, extensive damage to standing crops, plantations, orchards and blowing down of palm and coconut trees, uprooting of large bushy trees are expected.

Boats are anchored at a fishing harbor at Paradeep, on the Bay of Bengal coast in Orissa, India, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Cyclone Amphan was moving toward India and Bangladesh on Tuesday as authorities tried to evacuate millions of people while maintaining social distancing. (AP Photo)
Boats are anchored at a fishing harbor at Paradeep, on the Bay of Bengal coast in Orissa, India, Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

In Odisha districts of Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Bhadrak, Balasore, Jajpur and Mayurbhanj, total destruction of thatched houses and extensive damage to kutcha house are expected. While major damage to kutcha and pucca roads are likely, minor disruption of railways, overhead power lines and signalling systems are expected. Additionally, widespread damage to standing crops, plantations, orchards, falling of green coconuts and tearing of palm fronds and blowing down of bushy trees like mango are expected.

What is the likely post-landfall outlook?

Post landfall, the system is very likely to continue to move north-northeastwards, across Gangetic West Bengal and Bangladesh and weaken gradually. It is very likely to maintain the intensity of cyclonic storm till the morning of May 21 and thereafter will weaken into a deep depression over Bangladesh.

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