View from India: Cyclone Biparjoy makes landfall on Indian coast

Cyclone Biparjoy is expected to make landfall today along the Saurashtra-Kutch coast near Jakhau Port. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has indicated that the cyclone will make landfall between 4pm and 8pm (Indian Standard Time).

It’s a stormy scene out there. The cyclonic storm that formed in the Arabian Sea is now approximately 170km from Jakhau Port in Gujarat and 201km west of Devbhumi Dwarka in Gujarat, at time of writing. The storm is expected to cross the coast as a Very Severe Cyclonic Storm (VSCS), with a maximum sustained wind speed of 125-135kmph, gusting to 150kmph.  

The cyclone began in the low pressure area over a week ago before it rapidly grew into an Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm (ESCS). This storm seems to have been in the sea for a long time compared to many recent storms - probably the longest in the Arabian Sea. That’s how it has gathered abundant energy and moisture, making it extremely fierce and severe. Drones have captured images of dark clouds that have gathered over the Gujarat horizon. Like a warning, the cyclone has announced its imminent entry with high tides and heavy rains.

The force with which cyclones surge with all their gusto and speed can easily wash away people, damage buildings and destroy livestock. Gujarat’s Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) has cautioned the farmers to shift harvest crops from the fields to the go-downs. Fishing and port activities have been suspended. Schools in the coastal belt of Kutch, Jamnagar, Devbhumi Dwarka and Junagadh districts have been closed. Over 50,000 people have been shifted to shelter homes. The lion may be the king of the jungle. Here, the predator needs protection. The Asiatic lions in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat have been shifted to a safer place, relocated to higher ground.

The IMD has cautioned with a red alert as the cyclone could lead to heavy damage. The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has deployed teams in Mumbai and Gujarat for relief and rescue operations. The Armed Forces, Border Security Force (BSF) and the Coast Guard are on alert, ready to provide the necessary support and equipment to save the lives of people. The Indian Navy is ready with the P8i and Dornier aircraft ex-Hansa, Goa. Helos at INS Hansa in Goa and INS Shikra in Mumbai are ready for embarkation or ferry to Gujarat.

India’s prime minister Narendra Modi has already conducted a meeting with the home minister, principal secretary to the PM, the cabinet secretary and other senior officers. This is to gauge the readiness to handle the ripple effect of the cyclone. Modi has directed senior officers to take every possible measure to ensure that people living in vulnerable locations are safely evacuated by the State Government.

Modi has also insisted that the maintenance of all essential services such as power, telecommunications, health and drinking water should be restored immediately in the event of damages caused to them. He has further directed for 24/7 functioning of control rooms.

Amit Shah, the union home minister, has chaired meetings with the disaster management ministers of the states and Union Territories that could be impacted by the cyclone. Minister Amit Shah has announced schemes for disaster management to the tune of 8,000 crore rupees. The split would be 5,000 crore rupees for expanding and modernising fire services in the states. A sum of 2,500 crore rupees would go towards reducing the risk of urban flooding in the seven most populous metros — Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Pune. An allocation of 825 crores rupees is for the National Landslide Risk Mitigation Scheme in 17 states and Union Territories.

Already Mumbai is witnessing heavy rainfall. Media reports indicate that Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) has “undertaken all precautionary measures as per the standard protocols, as a part of its monsoon contingency plan.” Flights from Mumbai have been delayed or canceled as the cyclone is almost there. There is also heavy rainfall in Rajasthan.

India’s railways experienced a monumental tragedy on 2 June. The aftermath of the triple train collision in the Balasore district of Odisha seems to now being followed by a natural disaster. Accordingly, the Disaster Management Room at the Zonal Railway headquarters has sprung into action. Emergency control rooms at division headquarters in Bhavnagar, Rajkot, Ahmedabad, and Gandhidham have been put on alert. The stations are equipped with anemometers to monitor the wind velocity. Should the wind speed rise above 50kmph, the trains would be stopped from going through these locations. Signaling and telecommunication arrangements have been made. If all communication fails, the Emergency Control Room complete with satellite phones and FCT (Fixed Cellular Terminal) phones is being readied.  

The devastation caused by turbulent water currents and choppy high tides could be catastrophic, taking away lives and wrecking buildings, reducing them to rubble, all along the west coastline. For the rest of India, many of their loved ones may be living in the west coastline of India and would be understandably anxious as the disaster unfurls. Hence, the cyclone can be tracked in real time on smartphones. Google’s Zoom Earth is another means of tracking the fury of the waves. Websites such as cyclone.com and rainviewer.com also provide useful updates.

Gusty, noisy winds and high tides are matched by sea waves crashing mercilessly and relentlessly against the shoreline. All this appears to be a premonition of a disaster that could destroy the coastal environment, while also resulting in erratic monsoon weather and harm to aquatic life. It also has a negative effect on climate change. Researchers have pointed out that four decades ago, the Arabian Sea was cooler compared to the Bay of Bengal in the north Indian Ocean. Sea surface temperatures over the Arabian Sea have increased by 1.2°C to 1.4°C. This is as per a 2022 research paper published in Elsevier’s Earth Science Reviews. As the sea surface temperatures has changed, severe cyclones form and sustain themselves in the Arabian Sea.

As for this cyclone’s name, ‘Biparjoy’ means disaster in the Bengali language. How fitting.

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