May 3, 2019

Cyclone Fani Makes Landfall in India With 155 MPH Winds

Cyclone Fani made landfall in northeastern India on Friday with maximum sustained winds of about 155 MPH, the equivalent strength of a high-end category four hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. The storm will bring a deep storm surge, intense wind damage, and widespread flooding to the towns and villages along its path as the storm pushes into northeastern India and curves northeast toward Bangladesh.

The core of the storm came ashore near Puri, home to about 200,000 people, or about 300 miles southwest of Kolkata. The cyclone's extreme wind and surge will affect hundreds of thousands of people in communities along India's northeastern coast, with flooding rains affecting millions more over the next couple of days. Like we saw in Mozambique earlier this year—and so many times before here in the United States—flooding from storm surge and heavy rain is the leading cause of fatalities in a landfalling tropical cyclone.

Indian authorities evacuated nearly a million people from low-lying areas ahead of Cyclone Fani, which is reportedly the largest evacuation in modern Indian history. The large-scale evacuation ahead of Fani could succeed in cutting down the number of casualties from the storm. The massive evacuation ahead of Cyclone Phailin, which made landfall in 2013 not far from where Fani just came ashore, is likely responsible for the former storm's relatively low death toll. Phailin came ashore with maximum winds of about 125 MPH and observers widely feared that the winds and flooding would kill thousands of people; ultimately, only a few dozen fatalities were reported after the storm.

Even though storms of this strength are relatively rare in the northern Indian Ocean, it's not hard to see why the storm was able to rapidly develop once it rooted itself in the environment. The cyclone managed to take advantage of ample moisture, low wind shear, and extremely warm waters—approaching 90°F in the Bay of Bengal!—allowed the storm to grow about as strong as it could. Warm waters provide the instability needed to sustain and grow the thunderstorms around the core of a tropical cyclone. Stronger thunderstorms in the eyewall strengthen the tropical cyclone itself.


If the storm is verified to have maintained its 155 MPH maximum winds through landfall, such winds would make Fani one of the strongest cyclones to hit India in modern times. It's relatively rare for such a strong storm to make it to shore; only a handful of category-three-equivalent storms have struck India since the 1900s. The nearest analog to Fani would be an unnamed cyclone in October 1999 that made landfall at the same strength and in roughly the same area as Fani. The unnamed storm killed more than 10,000 people. One major difference between Fani and the unnamed cyclone 20 years ago is that the former storm stalled near the coast, which exacerbated the horrific flooding, while Fani will continue moving as it pushes inland toward Bangladesh this weekend.

[Top Image: RAMMB/CIRA]

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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I contribute to The Weather Network as a digital writer, and I've written for Forbes, the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, Popular Science, Mental Floss, and Gawker's The Vane. My latest book, The Skies Above, is now available. My first book, The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, arrived in October 2015.