Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Washington Post: Major disaster averted: 5 reasons why Cyclone Phailin not as bad as feared in India

(WashingtonPost) A catastrophe seemed inevitable as monstrous Cyclone Phailin lumbered towards the northeast coast of India. Less than 15 years before, a similar storm, named Odisha, devastated a nearby part of the country, leading to over 10,000 casualties.

It will be days if not weeks before Phailin’s full toll on life and property is known, but from early accounts, there are no signs of a disaster on the scale of 1999 Odisha cyclone. CNN reports a comparatively low 21 deaths from Phailin.

There are several factors which, together, help explain why disastrous consequences were avoided from Phailin.

1) Effective storm warnings: The Indian Meteorological Department, for several days, provided credible information about Phailin, which helped motivate the preparation and response effort.

2) Evacuations: India conducted its largest storm evacuation ever, re-locating more than 900,000 people from the coast to shelters in schools and government offices.

3) Location of Phailin’s landfall and its geography: Phailin washed ashore near Brahmapur about 100 miles farther south than Odisha did in 1999.  In this region, the continental shelf is steeper, meaning there was less low-lying terrain vulnerable to storm surge (the wall of water pushed ashore by the storm’s winds) flooding.

Elevation of the Odisha region of India, with the track of the 1999 Odisha cyclone and forecast track of Phailin overlaid.  (GlobalWarmingArt.org via Jeff Masters’ blog)
4) The storm substantially weakened prior to and during landfall: At landfall, Phailin’s maximum sustained winds were around 125-140 mph whereas they may been 160 mph or even  higher in the 24 hours preceding.  The storm surge peaked at around 13 feet, not the 20+ feet feared. The storm weakened for three possible reasons.

* Its core was re-organizing (in the midst of an eyewall replacement cycle)

* It was moving slowly enough prior to landfall to stir up cold water from deep water underneath.  This upwelling process caused sea surface temperatures  to cool as much as 8-10 degrees Celsius in the storm’s wake! (The steep shelf discussed above meant the water was deep enough for such a cold layer of water to be tapped.)
 Cold pool or cold wake stirred up by Cyclone Phailin

* Its interaction with land

5) The storm’s intensity may have been overestimated  (by some sources, including some we cited): While the Joint Typhoon Warning Center and other U.S. forecasters estimated the storm’s peak intensity reached category 5 levels, the Indian Meteorological Department did not. While the IMD predicted a serious storm (and its predictions motivated the massive preparation efforts), its forecasts were not as dire as some others. Assessing the intensity of a tropical cyclone in the Indian Ocean (and Bay on Bengal) is different from other ocean basins, and the regional expertise of the Indian Meteorological Department may have proven superior.

“They have been issuing warnings, and we have been contradicting them,” said L.S. Rathore, director-general of the Indian Meteorological Department. “That is all that I want to say.”

“As a scientist, we have our own opinion and we stuck to that. We told them that is what is required as a national weather service — to keep people informed with the reality without being influenced by over-warning,” Rathore added, according to the Associated Press.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Watch Video: 'Dollar valueless, about to crash' - World Bank whistleblower

Has the US Dollar now lost all value and is soon to crash as stated in this Russia Today video interview with World Bank whistleblower Karen Hudes? Is the US government shutdown a ‘temporary ailment’ or a ‘symptom of a grave, and terminal, disease’?

Indian Express: How Met, NDMA got it right, Orissa put 1999 behind

"Hundreds feared killed as winds with a velocity of over 260 km per hour batter 10 coastal districts of Orissa for over eight hours. A panicked state government, ill prepared, calls in for help. The scale of devastation not known even a day after the disaster as communication to thousands of villages cut off. The blame for not preparing for the calamity falls equally on the Weather Department"."
That was the news that hit the front page of this newspaper on October 30, 1999, the day after the super cyclone hit Orissa.

Cut 14 years ahead and the story of Phailin is totally different: 9,800 died then, 18 deaths have been reported so far this time; a few thousand evacuated then, more than 9 lakh taken to rescue shelters in 2013; communications completely destroyed then, Orissa is already talking about restoration now.

While the severity of Cyclone Phailin was by most indications lesser than the 1999 storm, one of the potentially worst natural disasters to hit India in years was averted due to a combination of efforts — including by the Meteorological Department, the state government and Centre. And it could become a role model for future disaster mitigation in the country.


A forewarned state government did not shy away this time from seeking all possible help from the Centre and carried out a mass evacuation programme. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik personally called up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as the Defence Minister to press the importance of the matter.

In 1999, when the super cyclone struck, then chief minister Giridhar Gamang was consulting his astrologers, who reportedly assured him that Cyclone O5B would split into two and fly over Orissa. Officials could not convince people in Jagatsinghpur that tidal surges could kill them. When the cyclone struck finally, there was no electricity even in the state secretariat as no one had thought of arranging a generator.

It was only after the scale of the devastation became clear that the Gamang government requested the Centre to send in armed forces and to seek "immediate release" of Rs 500 crore for rescue and relief.

This time, more than 72 hours before Phailin reached the coast, the state had initiated preparations for its arrival — evacuating people from coastal districts, mobilising officials and setting up temporary relief camps. Evacuation of 9,12,848 people was achieved in time, despite only 48 hours of notice being available for the precise location of the storm's landfall.

The state government pushed all available legislators to oversee work in their constituencies and government officials were told to work extra shifts despite it being festive season. With the ground well covered, the state is confident that within 24 hours, power will be restored in the affected parts and by 48 hours all roads will be cleared.

As things stand, 15 districts have been hit, including 14,514 villages. No major physical casualty has taken place and the damage has basically been to communications.

By mid-morning Sunday, the state government had conveyed that it would not be requiring the services of thousands of personnel who had been put on standby and hundreds who had been rushed in.


Defending its turf in the face of foreign 'experts' who predicted, varyingly, total annihilation to gentle winds, a well-equipped and confident India Meteorological Department (IMD) managed to not only get the scale of the natural event correct but was also as accurate as possible in the location of where the storm would hit the coast.

In 1999, the IMD had four long days to track and warn about the cyclone approaching Orissa. Lacking modern technology, there were only two days of warning that a simple cyclone originating from the Malay peninsula had picked up speed in the Bay of Bengal to emerge as a super cyclone.

This time, it stuck to its stand that it wasn't a super cyclone, contrary to proclamations by global experts. Director General, Meteorology, L S Rathore, in fact, rubbished the panic over Phailin, asking reporters to trust the IMD's expertise. Rathore's confidence was not ill-founded. Unlike 1999, the IMD of 2013 has an arsenal of sophisticated equipment, acquired over the 11th Plan period, plus the information gleaned through India's remote sensing satellites.

Rathore Sunday said that the accuracy in predicting the strength and nature of Phailin came from several measures taken over the past few years. "We have been improving our observation system. The development of human resources has also helped," he said, adding that the creation of a separate Ministry of Earth Sciences was crucial as this led to better interaction and transfer of operational systems.

As part of Phase I of the comprehensive modernisation of the Earth System Sciences Organisation between 2007-12, the weather office acquired state-of-the-art automatic weather stations, automatic rain gauges, doppler weather radars, as well as monitoring, analysis, visualisation and product dissemination systems, besides global/regional/meso-scale forecast models with real-time data assimilation through high-performance computing systems.

Specifically to keep an eye on weather conditions in real time, 24X7 monitoring systems are in place backed by 675 air weather stations, while 1,024 automatic rain gauges and 17 S and C-Band doppler weather radars have been commissioned at Chennai, Sriharikota, Machilipatnam, Visakhapatnam, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bhuj, Hyderabad, Nagpur, Patiala, Delhi Palam and Delhi Lodhi Road, Lucknow, Patna, Mohanbari (Assam), Agartala and Jaipur.


Learning its lessons from the Uttarakhand tragedy, it lost no time in mass mobilisation of the three armed forces. It deployed nearly 2,500 National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) personnel. Out of this, 29 teams were deployed in Orissa, 19 in Andhra Pradesh and 7 in West Bengal. To accommodate those affected, 250 cyclone shelters were set up.

A day after the cyclone made landfall, the Centre acknowledged that casualties had been minimised due to advance and timely warnings from the IMD, early evacuation and the preparedness of disaster management authorities. The monitoring and coordination system activated after the recent Uttarakhand flash floods was put to test during Phailin and so far had made good progress in containing the cyclone and its aftermath, officials said.

The NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) reported receiving nearly 400 calls at the NDRF Control Room in Delhi, seeking cyclone-related information. NDMA officials said around 100 persons were still stranded in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, and NDRF personnel were on their way to rescue them.

As per preliminary reports, the NDRF, using sophisticated tree-cutting equipment, has cleared the 15-km Konark-Puri road.

A DIG from the NDRF is stationed at Bhubaneswar to coordinate rescue and relief work in both the states. Over the past three days, the NDMA, which works under the Ministry of Home Affairs, tied up with Andhra Pradesh and Orissa to set up a 24-hour control room. Also on the standby is a 30-member quick response medical team, including personnel from Central government hospitals and the CGHS (Central Government Health Scheme).

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has set up 10 teams of public health professionals to counter the chance of epidemics, as well as a team of psychological experts.

Defence Ministry personnel were also pressed into service, but eventually did not have to be used as most of the people were evacuated in time. The Army, Air Force and Navy columns are now helping the state government restore transportation and communication facilities. More than 55 Army colums will continue to remain on high alert due to floods expected in parts of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar in the next 48 hours.

Large assets of the three Services and Coast Guard will also remain on standby. The Air Force has allocated 30 helicopters and 13 transport aircraft, including the two recently acquired Hercules. The Navy has kept its large warships ready at Visakhapatnam, with rations for 10,000 persons, potable water and medical teams. The Coast Guard has 15 of its ships on alert at Kakinada, Paradip and Visakhapatnam — their helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft have already commenced patrolling the coast. On Sunday evening, they rescued 19 Chinese and one Indonesian crewmen of the sunken Panamanian ship MV Bingo.