What is expected to be the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in India in nearly five years is barreling toward 100 million people on the east coast, causing officials to begin emergency evacuations.
At least 800,000 people were forced from India’s eastern coast on April 30, as a cyclone moving through the Bay of Bengal is slated to make landfall later in the week.
“Evacuation is in progress on a war footing,” an official told The Times of India. “Around 30 percent of the targeted people have so far been moved to safe places.”
On May 2, Tropical Cyclone Fani had winds of 118 mph (190 kph), with gusts of 124 mph (201 kph), making it equivalent in intensity to a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
ESCS FANI centered near 17.4 N/84.8E over westcentral Bay of Bengal at 1730 hrs IST about 275 km SSW of Puri & 160 km ESE of Visakhapatnam. To cross Odisha coast between Gopalpur & Chandbali around Puri during forenoon of tomorrow, the 3rd May. pic.twitter.com/PbdlpsuRdw
— India Met. Dept. (@Indiametdept) May 2, 2019
It’s expected to hit Odisha state on May 3.
As Fani was classified as an “extremely severe cyclonic storm,” the Indian Coast Guard and Navy deployed ships and helicopters for relief and rescue operations. Army and Air Force units have also been put on standby in Odisha, West Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh states.
Some 900 cyclone shelters have been set up across Odisha to house evacuees and school was canceled across the state for May 2 and May 3. Teams are going door to door to warn people.
“They are being told what to take with them if they leave and the precautions they need to take if they stay,” said Ameya Patnaik, assistant commandant for the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) in Odisha.
Evacuations have also begun neighboring Andhra Pradesh, while those in West Bengal have been told to be ready to leave, officials told CNN.
Fishermen have been warned not to venture into the sea, because of the extreme conditions.
Fani, which is still about 170 miles (270 kilometers) off the coast of India, strengthened rapidly April 29 and April 30, becoming the strongest storm to move through the Bay of Bengal this early in the year since Tropical Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
Nargis went on to strike Myanmar with winds over 124 mph (200 kph), bringing a devastating storm surge and flooding rainfall that resulted in more than 100,000 deaths in the country.
Fani is expected to bring large storm surges and significant wind damage near the landfall location. Inland flooding will also be a major threat.
Portions of eastern India and Bangladesh can expect six to 12 inches (150 to 300 mm) of rain with locally higher amounts, regardless of the intensity.
— The Weather Channel (@weatherchannel) May 1, 2019
As Fani approaches India, it will be moving nearly parallel to the coast. A slight move to the east or west would have a significant impact on the timing of landfall as well as the intensity. A more easterly track means that landfall would be farther north in India, perhaps even into Bangladesh.
If that happens, the storm would likely be a category or two weaker as it moves over cooler waters.
Fani is the first tropical cyclone of the year in the northern Indian Ocean.
The season doesn’t have a defined start and end like the Atlantic basin season, but it does have two main periods of activity: late April to early June, and October to November.
Satellite Images of 1200 UTC 30-04-2019 pic.twitter.com/Vb7Xg5PFwg
— India Met. Dept. (@Indiametdept) April 30, 2019
These two periods are prior to, and immediately following India’s southwest monsoon season. The southwest monsoon season lasts from June through September and provides India with the vast majority of its annual rainfall.
Tropical cyclone activity during the monsoon season is extremely rare because the monsoon is characterized by high wind shear, which makes it difficult for tropical storms to form.