Tropical Cyclone Phailin has maintained Category 5 strength for six hours, and
is expected to remain a Category 5 storm until it is just a few hours from
landfall on the northeast coast of India on the Bay of Bengal, according to the
5 pm EDT Friday advisory from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
Phailin put on a phenomenal
burst of rapid intensification on Thursday, going from a tropical storm with 65
mph winds to a top-end Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds in just 24 hours,
and is now at peak strength of 160 mph, tying it with Super Typhoon Usagi as
Earth's strongest tropical cyclone of 2013.
Satellite images show that
Phailin maintained very intense thunderstorms with cold cloud tops in its
eyewall, with the 5 pm EDT Friday satellite estimate of Phailin's central
pressure at 911 mb. This makes Phailin equal in strength to the great 1999
Odisha Cyclone, which killed 9,658 people in India's Odisha province. Radar out
of Visakhapanam, India shows that heavy rains from the outer bands of Phailin
are already affecting the coast, and these bands were bringing rainfall rates
of over an inch per hour, as estimated by microwave data from 18 UTC Friday.
Phailin is over ocean
waters that have warmed since Thursday, and are now 29 - 30°C. These warm
waters extend to a lesser depth than before, and ocean heat content has dropped
to a moderate 20 - 40 kJ/cm^2. Wind shear remains low, 5 - 10 knots, and
Phailin has strong upper-level outflow, thanks to an anticyclone positioned in
the upper atmosphere over the cyclone.
Figure 1. Microwave
satellite image overlaid on an infrared satellite image of Tropical Cyclone
Phailin, taken at approximately 18 UTC on October 11, 2013. At the time,
Phailin was a Category 5 storm with winds of 160 mph.
Phailin is likely to be the
strongest tropical cyclone to affect India in fourteen years, since the great
1999 Odisha Cyclone. The models are in tight agreement that Phailin will make
landfall in Northeast India on Saturday between 09 - 15 UTC about 100 miles to
the southwest of where the 1999 cyclone hit.
The India Meteorological
Department (IMD) is predicting that a storm surge of up to 3.5 meters (eleven
feet) will hit along a swath a coast to the right of where the center makes
landfall. I expect that this is an underestimate, since the 1999 Odisha Cyclone
brought a storm surge of 5.9 meters (19 feet) to the coast, and Phailin is
larger in areal extent and just as strong.
The region of the coast
where Phailin is expected to hit is not as low-lying, though, which should keep
the death toll due to storm surge much lower compared to the 1999 Odisha
Cyclone, where more than 70% of the deaths occurred due to the storm surge.
Deforestation of the
coastal mangroves in the storm surge zone was associated with increased death
toll in that storm, according to Das and Vincent (2009), who concluded,
"villages with wider mangroves between them and the coast experienced
significantly fewer deaths than ones with narrower or no mangroves.". I
expect that Phailin will weaken slightly before hitting the coast, due to
interaction with land, and hit as a Category 4 storm with winds of 145 - 155
mph. The 1999 Odisha Cyclone hit land with top winds of 155 mph.
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