Cyclone Watch Hudhud:  An evaluation

New Delhi, 20 October 2014: As predicted, the very severe cyclonic storm (VSCS) Hudhud made landfall a little before noon on October 12, 2014 , crossing into Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. However, the wind speed that lashed India’s eastern coastline was above the initial predicted 130-140 kmph gusting to 155 kmph. At landfall, the winds averaged 195 kmph, gusting to over 200 kmph, which means the intensity of Hudhud was greater than expected.
Evacuation operations ensured that over one and a half lakh residents in northern Andhra Pradesh and southern Odisha were moved out of vulnerable areas along the coast, keeping casualties to the minimum. Power was switched off from October 11 midnight to avoid deaths due to electrocution. Learning from the experience of VSCS Phailin that struck Odisha in 2013, care was taken to deal with storm surges that are the major cause of flooding following a cyclone. However, standing crops on the verge of harvest suffered in many parts of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.

Since the cyclone struck an urban area, there was little damage to homes. But, the damage to Visakhapatnam airport, port and the city infrastructure was so high that normalcy is far from being restored even several days after the cyclone has passed. The damage, according to the government of Andhra Pradesh, is estimated at around a whopping Rs 10,000 crore. VSCS Hudhud moved in a west-northwest direction following its cyclogenesis in the northern Indian ocean, and followed a track similar to Phailin, though in a more southerly direction, making landfall in Visakhapatnam. Besides Visakhapatnam, the most affected districts were Srikakulam, Vizianagram, Ganjam and Gopalpur.

Although the government’s aim of achieving zero casualty fell short, with some 50 deaths reported due to cyclone-related causes, Dr M Mohapatra Head, Cyclone Warning Division of the India Meteorological Department ( IMD) and Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre (RSMC) looks upon the IMD’s performance as successful. “Our path forecast is on par with that of Japan, although we are still behind the US in terms of error. For the 24 hour forecast, we are 25 km short of the US. For the 72 hour forecast, we lag behind by 50 km. But then, the National Hurricane Centre of the US regularly makes use of aircraft, which we do not do.” (Incidentally, Japan does not make use of aircraft on a regular basis for weather forecasts). Elaborating on the other aspects of Cyclone Hudhud, Dr Mohapatra says, “ The storm surge was in line with our forecast. We had predicted a 1-2 m surge, and the actual surge was 1.4 m above the astronomical tide level. Of course, we had to revise the prediction of wind speed. But remember, the prediction was done 5 days before actual landall. The accuracy, you must understand, improves as we move near landfall. Wind speed relates to the intensity of the cyclone. Where predicting the intensity of a cyclonic storm is concerned, the level of inaccuracy is the same worldwide. So, in all, it was not an inaccurate forecast.”

Commenting on the deaths that were caused due to secondary causes related to the cyclone, Dr Mohapatra felt there was a dire need to create awareness among the masses. Dr Mohapatra certainly has a point there. The deaths that have occurred are due to landslides, collapsing of telephone poles and uprooted trees that fell on people.

The havoc was mostly wrought by the tail of the cyclone. The eye of the cyclone makes landfall with accompanying rain, and strong gale winds. A lull, and then another round of stormy weather follow when the tail of the cyclone passes over. Unfortunately, despite repeated reminders urging people to stay indoors, many ventured out immediately after the eye had passed over the city, thus preparing ground for casualties. Perhaps, greater awareness might be called for to achieve the zero-casualty mark.

Rina Mukherji:

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