Potentially catastrophic cyclone Phailin, size of Katrina, headed for India
Satellite view of Cyclone Phailin (NOAA)
Over the last day, a cyclone over the Bay of Bengal has explosively
strengthened as it marches towards the east coast of India, presenting a
clear and present danger to the country of over a billion people.
In the last 18 hours, Phailin’s peak winds have increased an astonishing 80 mph (or 70 knots), a rare rate of intensification.
“Based on satellite estimates, maximum sustained winds are now easily around 160 mph (140 knots),” says Ryan Maue, a meteorologist at WeatherBell.com, a private forecasting services company.
Those wind speeds would make Phailin the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane, capable of catastrophic damage.
Phailin is not only intense, but also large.
“It’s equivalent to Katrina in size,” Maue says.
The storm is headed steadily northwest, on an unavoidable collision
course with India’s east coast. Landfall is expected Saturday afternoon
or evening local time (Saturday morning EDT), northeast of
Visakhapatnam, on its current track provided by the Joint Typhoon
Track forecast for Phailin (Joint Typhoon Warning Center)
Environmental conditions are ripe for the storm to maintain its strength if not intensify further.
Water temperatures are very warm and there is little hostile wind shear.
“Except for an eyewall replacement cycle, that’s the only thing that
could stop it,” Maue says. “I don’t see any dry air. It’s outflow is
nearly perfect. The ocean heat content all the way to the coast will be
the same [as the content supporting its current strength] or even
Wunderground meteorologist Jeff Masters warns cyclones that form over the Bay of Bengal have a history of producing devastating cyclones.
“Twenty-six of the thirty-five deadliest tropical cyclones in world
history have been Bay of Bengal storms,” Masters writes. “During the
past two centuries, 42% of Earth’s tropical cyclone-associated deaths
have occurred in Bangladesh, and 27% have occurred in India (Nicholls et
In 1999, the Odisha cyclone – taking a similar course to
Phailin – made landfall as a category 4 cyclone with 155 mph sustained
winds. The storm killed approximately 15,000 people. Many perished from
the storm surge – the wall of water pushed ashore by Odisha’s winds –
of up to 26 feet.
Storm surge, likewise, poses the biggest danger from Phailin due to
the low lying terrain at the coast that could easily be inundated. The
strength of Phailin’s winds and its mammoth size are likely to generate a
“A worst case scenario would have Phailin tracking slightly eastward
of its current forecasted track, toward Kolkata and the Ganges Delta of
Bangladesh, which is home to tens of millions of people living just a
few meters above sea level,” notes Qz.com meteorologist Eric Holthaus.
Preparations are underway.
“India began stocking shelters with rations, put disaster response
teams on standby, and cancelled government employees’ holidays as a
cyclone hurtled towards its southeastern coast on Thursday,” reports Reuters.