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Cyclone Tauktae shines the light on some important climate lessons5 min read

May 19, 2021 3 min read

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Cyclone Tauktae shines the light on some important climate lessons5 min read

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Cyclone Tauktae (pronounced ‘tau-tay’ in Burmese) has been causing great amounts of destruction since it originated in the Arabian Sea. Property has been destroyed, hundreds of trees uprooted, people have been lost at sea, and all this while the country is at war with Covid-19.

Cyclone Tauktae hitting India. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory
A Covid vaccination centre is swept off by the storm in Mumbai. Credit: BBC

The cyclone is currently classified as an ‘Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm’ and is the fifth-strongest cyclone ever in recorded history in the Arabian Sea! It was first observed by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) on May 13. It moved in an eastward direction first, before moving north and becoming more powerful.

On May 15, the storm moved along the coast of Karnataka, where it went from being ‘Severe Cyclonic Storm’, to an ‘Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm’.

Though we are seeing such a severe storm after several years, experts say these natural occurences are only going to increase as the temperatures in our oceans and seas rise.

Owliver’s Obscure Observations

The IMD categorises tropical storms moving in an anti-clockwise direction into Depression, Deep Depression, Cyclonic Storm, Severe Cyclonic Storm, Very Severe Cyclonic Storm, Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm, and Super Cyclonic Storm. The last two have wind speeds of over 160 kilometres per hour (kmph) and 210 kmph, respectively.

Warmer waters directly cause cyclones!

Boats return to shore ahead of the storm. Credit: PTI

The Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal are both a part of the Indian Ocean. Both of these have been heating up as a result of climate change and global warming, and this is directly resulting in natural disasters such as Tauktae.

A recent research paper by Delhi-based climate change agency Climate Trends points out that cyclones are fueled by heat in water bodies. For a cyclone to become intense, the temperature of the water has to be 28 degree Celsius (°C) and above. Right now, the Arabian Sea is a warm pool at 30-31°C!

Normally, the Bay of Bengal is warmer than the Arabian Sea and so it hosts more storms, however, this scenario is changing. The paper states, “we have seen Sea Surface Temperature (SSTs) increasing rapidly in the last century”. As a result, SSTs in the Arabian Sea are beyond normal values, leading to intense cyclones.

Recent cyclones like Ockhi, Fani, and Amphan provide further proof that such cyclonic storms are on the rise, and can get very severe in a span of just 24 hours!

More cyclones coming up

Policemen at work while leg-deep in water. Credit: BBC

In the past few decades, the average number of storms to occur over the Arabian Sea, as well as the time of the year when they do, have seen changes. In 2018, the Bay of Bengal saw an average of four cyclones a year, and the Arabian Sea gave rise to three instead of one. The very next year, this number rose to five!

As mentioned earlier, this steady rise in number of cyclonic storms is consistent with rising temperatures in the Indian Ocean.

In fact, event before Tauktae is out of the picture, another storm is brewing, but this time, in the Bay of Bengal. The IMD said in a statement on Wednesday that a ”low pressure area”— which happens before a cyclonic storm — was likely to form in the eastern Bay of Bengal and the Northern Andaman Sea by May 22. “It is very likely to intensify gradually into a cyclonic storm,” the IMD said.

Owliver’s Obscure Observations

Cyclone Tauktae was named in accordance with the list of northern Indian Ocean tropical cyclone names nominated by the 13 countries affected by the region: Bangladesh, India, Iran, Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, UAE and Yemen.

The name Tauktae, which means a gecko or lizard in Burmese, was nominated by Myanmar. The next cyclone will be called Yaas (Oman), followed by Gulab (Pakistan), Shaheen (Qatar), Jawad (Saudi Arabia), and Asani (Sri Lanka).

While we’re talking cyclones, why don’t we brush up on other natural phenomena a little? Solve this quiz to test your knowledge.

Sources: India Today, The New Indian Express, The Hindu, The Print