Early warning systems minimise damage

Fierce Phailin: Scientists picked up signals ten days ago

Early warning systems minimise damage

Ten days before cyclone Phailin wreaked havoc in coastal Odisha, weather scientists monitoring the vast expanse of the Bay of Bengal had picked up the first signals of the impending disaster.

An elaborate network of moored buoys – weather sentinels of the sea – first picked up signs of a possible tropical storm on October 3.

The data buoy – a Tata Nano-sized device floating in the sea and moored to the sea-bed – carries several devices and sensors to record minute changes in the sea surface temperature, wind speed, atmospheric pressure and other meteorological parameters. The BD10 buoy located in the North Andaman Sea recorded a drop in atmospheric pressure and rise in sea surface temperatures on October 3.

This was promptly transmitted via the Inmarsat satellite network to the Chennai-based National Institute of Ocean Technology and Hyderabad-based Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Service.

The developing weather system was observed for five days and it became clear on October 8 that the cyclonic storm was headed towards the Indian coast. The National Disaster Management Authority was roped in and asked to prepare mass evacuations along the Odisha coast.

When the tropical storm was within 400 km from the Odisha coastline, Doppler weather radars installed in the vicinity took over its monitoring. This was supported by extensive observations of the cyclone by earth observation satellites.

India Meteorology Department officials pointed out that the disaster in Uttarakhand due to heavy rains in June was mostly due to lack of disaster management plans. The situation in Odisha was much better, which resulted in saving lives.

“We found that the state government of Odisha was well prepared to handle the situation,” a senior official in the Ministry of Earth Sciences told Deccan Herald. The state government officials, with a little help from the NDMA, moved a staggering nine lakh people to cyclone shelters within 48 hours of being alerted.

Alongside, scientists were closely tracking cyclone Phailin and forecast that it would make landfall at Gopalpur in Ganjam district of Odisha.

“Fortunately, the behaviour of the cyclone was normal and it kept moving along the predicted track,” Shailesh Nayak, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences said.

He recalled that the 1999 super cyclone, which took over 12,000 lives, was erratic and had stopped moving towards the coast for a few hours, which enabled it to grow in intensity.

The massive investments in modernising weather observation systems over the past seven years appear to have paid off.

The data buoy network – seven buoys in the Bay of Bengal and five in the Arabian Sea – continue to keep scientists posted on slightest changes in weather parameters which enables them to take timely action.

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