Millions of people in India and Bangladesh are in the path of a super cyclone which is due to make landfall in less than 36 hours, bringing damaging winds and heavy rain to a region already struggling with the coronavirus pandemic.
Super Cyclone Amphan became the strongest storm ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal on Monday night, after intensifying with sustained wind speeds of up to 270 kilometers per hour (165 miles per hours), according to data from the US Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
Amphan has weakened slightly since, but the storm is still the equivalent of a strong Category 4 Atlantic hurricane, or a super typhoon in the West Pacific, with winds speeds up to 240 kph (150 mph).
The Bay of Bengal, in the northeastern part of the Indian Ocean, is positioned between India to the west and northwest, Bangladesh to the north, and Myanmar to the east.
The super cyclone is due to make landfall on the India Bangladesh border on Wednesday evening, near the Indian city of Kolkata which is home to more than 14 million people.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviewed the country’s emergency response measures on Monday night, ahead of the storm’s landfall in India.
The Director General of India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said 25 NDRF teams have been deployed to the region, with 12 others ready in reserve, and 24 other teams are also on standby in different parts of India.
Fishermen have been warned to remain onshore and not sail out for the next 24 hours by the Indian Meteorological Department.
Following the meeting, Modi said on his official Twitter account that evacuation plans had been discussed, as well as other emergency response measures.
“I pray for everyone’s safety and assure all possible support from the Central Government,” he said.
On May 18 at 3:40 a.m. EST (0740 UTC), NASA’s Aqua satellite passed over Tropical Cyclone Amphan, located in the Northern Indian Ocean. Aqua found highest concentrations of water vapor (brown) and coldest cloud top temperatures were around the clear eye. Credits: NASA/NRL
The storm comes as both India and Bangladesh struggle to bring local coronavirus outbreaks under control. India passed more than 100,000 confirmed infections on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University, recording its largest single-day surge yet with a total of 5,242 new cases.
Meanwhile Bangladesh’s infection count is rapidly rising, with more than 1,300 new cases on Sunday, its biggest rise yet. In total, the country has recorded 23,870 confirmed infections, according to Johns Hopkins.
Tackling both disasters at once will be challenging for the two governments, especially if they attempt to maintain social distancing in packed evacuation centers and emergency shelters.
Cyclone Amphan could also bring heavy rains to the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, where almost 1 million Rohingya refugees live after fleeing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
The first known Covid-19 cases were confirmed in the camp last week and with the storm now imminent, the two disasters could make for a devastating combination.
One human rights advocate said that a novel coronavirus outbreak in the camp would be a “nightmare scenario.”
“The prevalence of underlying health conditions among refugees and the deteriorating sanitary conditions sure to come with the looming monsoon and flooding season make for a witch’s brew of conditions in which the virus is sure to thrive,” said Daniel P. Sullivan, who works for the US-based organization Refugees International.
What is Cyclone Amphan?
It is the first tropical cyclone of the 2020 North Indian Ocean cyclone season. Amphan is the first super cyclonic storm in the Bay of Bengal since the 1999 Odisha cyclone.
The first tropical cyclone of the 2020 North Indian Ocean cyclone season, Amphan’s origins can be tracked back to a low-pressure area situated over the Bay of Bengal on April 29.
During May 13, an area of low pressure developed over the southeastern Bay of Bengal about 1020 km (635 mi) to the southeast of Visakhapatnam in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.The area of low pressure was located within a favourable environment for further development with good equatorward outflow, warm sea surface temperatures and low vertical windshear. Over the next couple of days, the system became more marked as it gradually consolidated further, with bands of deep atmospheric convection wrapping into the system’s low level circulation center. During May 16, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) reported that the area of low pressure had developed into a depression and designated it as BOB 01, while it was located about 1,100 km (685 mi) to the south of Paradip in the Indian state of Odisha.
Moving northwards, the depression continually organised and became a cyclonic storm a few hours later, receiving the name Amphan.
The name of the severe cyclonic storm “Amphan” was decided even before it had formed.
It was given by Thailand back in 2004.
The word “Amphan” (pronunciation: Um-pun), means sky, said Bajlur Rashid, meteorologist of Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD).
But, how is it that a cyclone which originated in the Northern Indian Ocean region was named by Thailand and that too almost 16 years ago? And why are cyclones given names and who decides those?
According to the Hurricane Research Division, tropical cyclones are named to provide ease of communication between forecasters and the general public regarding forecasts, watches, and warnings. A name helps people and the media to identify each cyclone and become more aware of its implications.
As the storms can often last a week or longer and more than one can occur in the same basin at the same time, names can reduce the confusion about which storm is being referred to.
Cyclones that form in every ocean basin across the world are named by the regional specialised meteorological centres (RSMCs) and Tropical Cyclone Warning Centres (TCWCs). There are six RSMCs and five TCWCs in the world.
As an RSMC, the India Meteorological Department names the cyclones developing over the north Indian Ocean, including the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea, after following a standard procedure.
Earlier storms were named arbitrarily.
For example, an Atlantic storm that ripped off the mast of a boat named Antje became known as Antje’s Hurricane, according to the World Meteorological Department.
But meteorologists, in the pursuit of a more organised and efficient naming system, decided to identify storms using names given by a list of countries arranged alphabetically.
In early 2000, a group of nations called WMO/ESCAP (World Meteorological Organisation/United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific), which comprised of Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand, decided to start naming cyclones in the region.
After each country sent in suggestions, the WMO/ESCAP Panel on Tropical Cyclones (PTC) finalised the list.
They came up with a list of 64 names in 2004 — eight names from each country — for upcoming cyclones.
The given names are preordered on the list and used serially whenever a cyclone occurs.
The WMO/ESCAP expanded to include five more countries in 2018 — Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
IMD released a new list of 169 cyclone names in April of this year including 13 suggestions from each of the 13 countries.
Since “Amphan”– the last name on the original list established in 2004 had remained unused — it was selected to complete the previous list and move onto a new one, according to the IMD.
After Amphan, the names of the three cyclones would be Nisarga (Bangladesh), Gati (India) and Nivar (Iran).
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a Geneva-based agency of the United Nations (UN), maintains the lists of the given names.
The Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) also has the list of names contributed by these countries for cyclones that form over the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. Every time a cyclone forms, a name is picked in order of submission by these countries.
The name of the tropical cyclone “Fani”, which had hit Bangladesh in 2019, was given by Bangladesh. The Bangla word “Fani” means snake.
Cyclone “Mora” which hit Bangladesh in 2017 was named by Thailand. “Mora” is a Thai word, which means “star of the sea” or “sea star”.
Cyclonic storm “Roanu” that hit Bangladesh in May 2016 was named by Maldives. The Maldivian word means “coir rope”.