India is preparing for the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone in nearly five years, as Tropical Cyclone Fani moves up the east coast of the subcontinent.
Fani, located in the Bay of Bengal roughly 270 kilometers (170 miles) off of the coast of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, has intensified significantly over the past couple of days and could strengthen further as it nears the coast over the next 24-48 hours.
As of Wednesday, Fani had winds of 195 kph (120 mph), which would make it equivalent in intensity to a Category 3 major hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
The last time India had a storm equivalent to a major hurricane (Category 3 or greater) make landfall was Tropical Cyclone Hudhud in 2014, according to records from NOAA.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking re-election, said Thursday he was reviewing the country’s preparedness ahead of the cyclone’s landfall.
Nargis went on to strike Myanmar with winds over 200 kph (124 mph), bringing a devastating storm surge and flooding rainfall that resulted in more than 100,000 deaths in the country.
Inland flooding a major threat
Fani is expected to reach the coast equivalent to a major hurricane (winds greater than 175 kph or 110 mph), which will bring a large storm surge of several meters and significant wind damage near the landfall location.
If that happens, the storm would likely be weaker as it moves over cooler waters.
If Fani reaches the coast equivalent to a major hurricane (winds greater than 175 kph or 110 mph) it will bring a large storm surge of several meters and significant wind damage near the landfall location.
If the storm weakens it may reduce the damage from winds and storm surge, but flooding would remain a concern. Portions of eastern India and Bangladesh can expect 150 to 300 mm (6 to 12 inches) with locally higher amounts regardless of the intensity.
Fani is the first tropical cyclone of the year in the northern Indian Ocean, and the most powerful to occur there so early since the Bangladesh cyclone of 1991.
The season doesn’t have a defined start and end like the Atlantic hurricane season, but it does have two main periods of activity: late April to early June, and October to November.
These two periods are before and immediately after 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.