Thousands dead in Myanmar tropical cyclone

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:33 PM GMT on May 05, 2008

A disaster of horrific proportions has befallen Myanmar, where the death toll is now over 4,000, with thousands more missing, in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. Nargis--a popular woman's name in India--is the deadliest and most destructive tropical cyclone ever to hit Myanmar (Burma). The storm hit the coast of Myanmar Friday night as borderline Category 3/Category 4 cyclone, with winds of 130-135 mph. After passing over the low-lying and densely populated Irrawaddy River delta region, Nargis made a direct hit on the capital city of Rangoon (Yangon), as a Category 1 storm with top winds of 80 mph. Winds at the Yangon airport hit 69 mph, gusting to 138 mph, at 5:30am local time on Saturday. The anemometer failed at that point, and the winds likely rose higher.

Figure 1. Population density of Myanmar, with Nargis' track superimposed. Nargis passed over some of the most densely populated regions of the country. Image credit: Columbia University's CIESEN.

However, it was the storm surge, not the winds, that was the big killer in Nargis. The storm tracked over the low-lying Irrawaddy River delta region, which is highly vulnerable to storm surge deaths due to its low elevation, dense population, and limited hurricane awareness of the people. I could find no records of a major tropical cyclone ever making a direct hit on the Irrawaddy River delta. The ocean bottom off the coast of Myanmar is quite shallow (Figure 2). A large area of Continental Shelf waters with depth 200 meters or less extends far out to sea. This is a situation similar to the Gulf of Mexico, and is ideal for allowing large surge surge to pile up over the shallow waters. The counter-clockwise circulation of winds around Nargis likely built up a storm surge of at least 4 meters (13 feet), that then smashed ashore into the Irrawaddy Delta region, drowning thousands of people.

Figure 2. Bathymetry of the Bay of Bengal. The shallow waters of the Continental Shelf (mostly shallower than 200 meters) are shaded whitish-grey. The shallow waters south of Rangoon allowed the counter-clockwise circulation or winds around Nargis to pile up a large storm surge to the right of the storm's track. Image

Storm surges of four meters have been recorded along the Myanmar coast in at least one other cyclone. The Gwa cyclone of May 4, 1982--a Category 4 storm with 140 mph winds--hit just north of where Nargis struck, and carried a four meter high storm surge to the coast. Fortunately, that storm hit far enough north that it was not able to pile up a huge storm surge along the southern shore of the Irrawaddy Delta. The official death toll from the Gwa cyclone was only five people, but was probably very much higher. The military junta that has controlled Myanmar since 1962 has been known to conceal the number of people killed in natural disasters. The highest official death toll from a tropical cyclone in Myanmar is 187, during the Category 1 storm that hit on May 7, 1975. According to a email I received form Chris Burt, author of the excellent book Extreme Weather:

Statistics concerning disasters in Burma since the mid-1960s must be viewed with some skepticism since the authorities always want to pretend they have control of all situations whether natural or societal, and outsiders are never allowed access to devastated sites--I am sure this will be the case again with Cyclone Nargis. We may never know the true magnitude of what happened. I was in Rangoon just 7 weeks ago (I've been visiting Burma for 30 years on a regular basis--every year since) and can tell you that if winds as strong as reported occurred, the damage must be enormous (the vast majority of structures in the city are poorly built and even the newer construction was not constructed with CAT 3 winds in mind.

During the tsunami event of Dec. 26, 2005 the 'official' death toll was something like 69, but in reality many hundreds were killed (estimates 300-800) in the Mergui Archipelago just north of the Thai border. In fact, not included in the official death toll (in Burma or Thailand) were hundreds and perhaps 1,000 illegal Burmese immigrants working in the hotel industry at Kao Lak in Thailand (just north of Phuket where the worst damage occurred in Thailand).

Figure 3. Simulated storm surge of the May 4, 1982 cyclone that hit Gwa, Myanmar. The Gwa cyclone was a Category 4 storm with 140 mph winds shortly before landfall. Storm surge values of four meters (13 feet) were measured and simulated just to the right of where the the cyclone hit the coast. Note that the counter-clockwise circulation around the cyclone also drove a high storm surge into the bay just east of Rangoon. The reported death toll was only five, but was probably much higher. Image credit: "Simulation of Storm Surges Along Myanmar Coast Using a Location Specific Numerical Model" (Jain et al., Natural Hazards 39, 1, September 2006).

Jeff Masters

Reader Comments

Comments will take a few seconds to appear.

Post Your Comments

Please sign in to post comments.

Sign In or Register Sign In or Register

Not only will you be able to leave comments on this blog, but you'll also have the ability to upload and share your photos in our Wunder Photos section.

Display: 0, 50, 100, 200 Sort: Newest First - Order Posted

Viewing: 410 - 360

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9Blog Index

410. all4hurricanes
8:00 PM GMT on May 06, 2008
I heard this storm might have already reached a death toll of 200,000. Even if the death toll doesn't grow the economy will fail lots of rice crop were destroyed no rice for a year and bad rice (from salt water intrusion) for the next decade that country will struggle
Member Since: March 29, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2459
409. Patrap
6:50 PM GMT on May 06, 2008
..If a Katrina sized storm took the path as Nargis did.The Toll of the lost would be easily 200,000 plus.

from the entry above,Dr. Masters

Nargis hit the coast of Myanmar Friday night as powerful Category 3 cyclone with winds of 130 mph. The cyclone took the worst possible track, passing directly over the densely populated and low lying Irrawaddy River delta. A deadly storm surge--probably around 12 feet high--inundated the delta region, accounting for most of the deaths. The storm's fierce winds killed many more. The only fortunate thing about Nargis was its small size. Hurricane-force winds covered an area about 90 miles in diameter (Figure 1). In contrast, the wind field of Katrina at landfall spanned an area about 205 miles in diameter. Winds from both storms at landfall were about the same (strong Category 3), but Katrina's winds covered an area four times larger than Nargis.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 439 Comments: 137188
408. TBWX3000
12:44 PM GMT on May 06, 2008
22,464 people have now been confirmed dead from Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar.

Oh my! Is this the worst tropical system in history? Surely overall public health standards world wide have to contribute to the great loss of life with population booms in these economically challenged countries.

I don't think hurricance Mitch did this much damage and caused as much death. A whole town of 10,000 was completely wiped off the map during Nargis. This is hard to comprehend.
12:43 PM GMT on May 06, 2008
unnessary death if they only evac delta the toll would have been lower
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 195 Comments: 61083
406. Patrap
12:38 PM GMT on May 06, 2008
BBC: In pictures: Cyclone aftermath Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 439 Comments: 137188
12:35 PM GMT on May 06, 2008
30000 by the end of this day
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 195 Comments: 61083
404. Patrap
12:34 PM GMT on May 06, 2008
Burma aid chief fears 50,000 dead in cyclone
May 6, 2008 - 8:45PM Link
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 439 Comments: 137188
403. vortfix
12:29 PM GMT on May 06, 2008
It's a terrible tragedy. I thank all of you for the links and scraps of information you have posted for everyone.

From what I have read and heard....CNN is the only Television news outlet allowed in the country.
There are other print outlets in there but I don't have a list.
So monitor CNN for the latest.
Member Since: October 29, 2007 Posts: 135 Comments: 46072
402. Patrap
12:29 PM GMT on May 06, 2008
Missing Americans in the Impact Zone Contact Information:

United States Embassy
Address: 110 University Ave, Kamayut Township, Rangoon, Burma
Office Hours: 08:00AM to 04:30PM (MON-FRI). Except for Embassy Holidays
Phone: (95)-(1)-536-509 and then will hit 1 to get to the Consular section
Fax: (95)-(1)-650-480
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 439 Comments: 137188
401. cybergrump
12:28 PM GMT on May 06, 2008
another wave coming off africa...
Member Since: September 17, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 434
400. IKE
12:23 PM GMT on May 06, 2008
From CNN....

" Based on a satellite map made available by the U.N., the storm's damage was concentrated over about a 30,000 square-kilometer area along the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Martaban coastlines, which is home to nearly a quarter of Myanmar's 57 million people.

Kyi Minn, of the international aid group World Vision, told CNN that the situation was bleak.

"It could be worse than [the] tsunami,"
Minn said, comparing the cyclone's impact on Myanmar to the damage caused following the tsunami that struck the region in late 2004. The tsunami was triggered by a a massive earthquake off the coast of Indonesia and killed more than 150,000 across the region."
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37938
396. cchsweatherman
12:07 PM GMT on May 06, 2008
You know that I respect you 456, but how in the world can you post something on our hurricane season, when a true disaster has occured elsewhere in the world? Screw our Atlantic basin, we need to send aid to Myanmar, although it has been, to this point, refused by its government.
Member Since: April 14, 2007 Posts: 8 Comments: 5169
395. cchsweatherman
12:04 PM GMT on May 06, 2008
That nation's government really ****** its people over big time. Now, even after screwing up unbelievably bad, their refusing United States aid. The UN needs to intervene and remove the current administration over there for allowing this tragedy (this is what it truly has become when you boil everything down) to occur. There is no way this many people should have died since they had ample notice of this storm. The tsunami was one thing, this is on the complete opposite end of the spectra.
Member Since: April 14, 2007 Posts: 8 Comments: 5169
394. Cavin Rawlins
12:00 PM GMT on May 06, 2008
Forecasting Cape Verde Hurricane Tracks in 2008
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
393. cchsweatherman
11:59 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
Dear Lord!!! This is just insane how many people died in Myanmar from Nargis. At first, I couldn't believe that now 22,000 are DEAD. That government has the blood of many on their hands now as they were indifferent towards preparing their citizens and failed to aid in evacuations from the delta region. This is the worst disaster that has occurred on this planet since the Christmas Eve tsunami of 2004 that took well over 250,000 lives in the Indian Ocean region. God bless them all and may that nation find peace and aid in their suffering.
Member Since: April 14, 2007 Posts: 8 Comments: 5169
392. vortfix
11:58 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
Holy the aid workers are thinking 50,000 may be closer to the number of fatalities.

Aid workers fear Burma cyclone deaths will top 50,000
Member Since: October 29, 2007 Posts: 135 Comments: 46072
391. lawntonlookers
11:56 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
I don't know how I missed this, and just heard about it. I will have to start checking the blogs more often.
Member Since: March 22, 2006 Posts: 9 Comments: 1570
390. IKE
11:52 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
AP: Myanmar state radio says cyclone death toll soars above 22,000.
Member Since: June 9, 2005 Posts: 23 Comments: 37938
389. weathersp
11:51 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
I'm watching CNN right now and they have CONFIRMED that Myanmar state run radio that they estimate that the death total is near 22,000!
Member Since: January 14, 2007 Posts: 17 Comments: 4140
388. gulfcoastdweller
11:08 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
FWF91....I am glad you posted the interactive flood surge report of Tampa. It just goes to show if a 20 ft storm surge hits Tampa, it will make NO look like a mud puddle

Pat......I love that video of the Guerro family...though tragic, it is still a great Hurricane Katrina flood surge video

God Bless everyone effected in Mayanmar
Member Since: July 2, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 718
387. all4hurricanes
10:41 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
The last cyclone that caused this many deaths was cyclone 02B that hit Bangladesh in 1991 killing 138,000 people. It seems a lot of the worlds deadliest cyclones form in the Bay of Bengal and with an increase of Indian ocean activity there could be a lot more Nargis's
Member Since: March 29, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2459
386. Rainman32
9:46 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
Myanmar cyclone wave killed most of 15,000 victims

By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON (Reuters) - A powerful cyclone that slammed into Myanmar's Irrawaddy delta triggered a massive wave that gave people nowhere to run, killing at least 15,000 and leaving 30,000 others missing, officials said on Tuesday.

"More deaths were caused by the tidal wave than the storm itself," Minister for Relief and Resettlement Maung Maung Swe told a news conference in the devastated former capital, Yangon, where food and water supplies are running low.

"The wave was up to 12 feet high and it swept away and inundated half the houses in low-lying villages," he said, giving the first detailed description of the weekend cyclone. "They did not have anywhere to flee." More...
Member Since: September 19, 2004 Posts: 32 Comments: 6124
385. Rainman32
9:32 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
Aid call as Burma casualties rise

Burma's capital Rangoon is one of the areas worst-affected by the cyclone

International agencies are pushing to gain access for a massive aid operation in Burma, where the toll from Saturday's cyclone continues to rise.

Up to 15,000 people are said to have died in the disaster, and many more are missing, officials say.

Hundreds of thousands of people are said to be without clean water and shelter, with some areas still cut-off.

Burma's leaders say they will accept external help, in a move correspondents say reflects the scale of the disaster.

BBC News
Member Since: September 19, 2004 Posts: 32 Comments: 6124
384. FLWeatherFreak91
9:20 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
click on "interactive report" to view a Tampa Storm surge prediction.
Member Since: December 1, 2006 Posts: 2 Comments: 3749
383. listenerVT
4:51 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
10,000 died in one town.
Toll is now expected to reach 15,000.

May the dead rest in peace ♥
May the suffering soon be comforted ♥
and the lost found ♥

Member Since: July 11, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 5958
382. boxer01
4:49 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
Member Since: August 4, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 2
381. bigtrucker
4:42 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
My heart goes out to the people of Myanmar.
Hopefully the rebuilding goes well, and relief arrives quickly.
Member Since: January 9, 2006 Posts: 80 Comments: 6119
4:38 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 195 Comments: 61083
379. ajcamsmom2
3:07 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
Member Since: March 15, 2008 Posts: 4 Comments: 2498
378. Patrap
3:06 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
Katrina showed that even the waterline of Camille in Biloxi, would be surpassed. And seeing 6 feet of water cross Hwy 90 at Waveland Ave,3.5 miles inland..boggles my simple mind still.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 439 Comments: 137188
377. ajcamsmom2
3:00 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
OK, I am not sure about this house with straps question as I have just logged on and have not read all the previous posts...That being said...
The house I lived in in Pass Christian, MS had withstood Hurricane Camille. So, when I decided to build a new one a couple of lots further from the beach, I decided to go ahead and build it a bit better just in case. I built it on a five foot higher chain wall foundation...It was cynder block filled with tons of rebarb and had the best windows and doors I could get...Heck I even got door knobs that were guaranteed for was strong, as strong as I could make it...I was supposed to move in it the Friday after Katrina, so, if the birds would have been around that Sat. morning before she hit...I would have just stayed at my house and moved to the new one if things got rough...Luckily the birds, racoons, ants, everything decided to, since I had my baby with me, I decided to leave with them. I figured it would not be too good for him if the utilities went out...Anyway, I am so glad I did, because when finally got back to the Pass, both of my homes were nothing but slabs and my neighbors steel hurricane proof home looked good from my side of the yard, but, when I walked in front it was like a big tunnel...nothing in there...also, even the bridges were Knocked down, so, I would not consider anything safe from one of these mega storms...Lisa
Member Since: March 15, 2008 Posts: 4 Comments: 2498
376. Patrap
2:56 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
Video taken by Guerra Family durin Hurricane Katrina. Chalmette, LA. their own words.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 439 Comments: 137188
375. moonlightcowboy
2:55 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
Ignoring a Natural Event to Blame Humans - full article by John McLean in October 2007.

It is shown here that there is good evidence the Great Pacific Climate Shift in 1976 changed the upwelling of cold water and moved the Pacific Ocean into a warmer state, which means towards El Niño conditions.

If we draw a trend line through the Southern Oscillation Index over a long term we find a trend towards El Niño conditions. It is a trend that's largely due to the 1976 shift because since then the Southern Oscillation has continued to fluctuate as it has always done, but now it does so about a lower mid-point. It is to be expected that in these circumstances the Walker Circulation will weaken and it would be a huge surprise if it was otherwise.

Natural events, and well-described events at that, can explain why the Walker Circulation has changed. The claim by Vecchi et al of a 99% probability that the change was due to humans can be soundly rejected. Power and Smith's (2007) claim that global warming has modified the Walker Circulation over the last 30 years is likewise refuted, although their claim of a shift towards El Niño is correct but it is wrongly attributed.

All three papers suggest that either the authors have an appalling lack of knowledge about one of the most important climate shifts in the twentieth century or that this event was deliberately ignored in order to falsely support the claim of man-made warming. There are no other options. I'd like to think it was the former, but there's plenty of reasons to consider it may have been the latter.

Other article: The Relationship of the PDO to El Nino and La Nina Frequency

Figure 1(above): Mantua’s PDO positive warm phase (left) and negative cold phase (right). Colors represent sea surface temperature anomalies (reds are warmer than normal, blues colder than normal)

They discovered that in the 20th century, the PDO tended to be predominantly positive from 1922 to 1947 and negative from 1947 to 1977 and then positive most of the time since 1977.

- These are not my words, but that of more intelligent and versed folks than myself. In here, one is whacked if they state opinion and whacked if they cut and paste information from elsewhere! LOL! Well, it matters not to me. I read and discern as I choose and believe what I choose and I will also post as I choose, too. I suspect most are reasonably smart enough to do the same. However, it is nice to be exposed to different thought and information from other than just the main stream trough that we're fed from daily.

MLC <---------out for the evening for some peace and quiet, and a lil shut-eye! Have a good sleep, folks. God be with the people of Myanmar and may they find solace in their time of grief.
Member Since: July 9, 2006 Posts: 184 Comments: 29617
374. pottery
2:52 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
Its 10:51 here guys. I'm out.
Everyone sleep safe.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 26204
373. pearlandaggie
2:52 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
well, i'm out...y'all have a good evening...
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
370. pottery
2:49 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
OK House. You take care. And in the event of a big storm bearing down on you, If you can leave, then do that.
Better safe than sorry, we say !
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 26204
365. Patrap
2:39 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
Another view from my Photos of the Lake Marina Condo,round Sept 12th 2005.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 439 Comments: 137188
363. pearlandaggie
2:38 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
here is a report from LSU on the effectiveness of damage mitigation techniques...


The Mississippi hurricane scenario was analyzed with the HAZUS Hurricane Model to explore
the effectiveness of improved building codes and construction practices in mitigating wind
damage. The mitigation options are based upon strategies incorporated in the Dade County
South Florida Building Code, described below (see the HAZUS Technical Manual for more
details). The hurricane provisions of the International Residential Code require similar
%uDBC0%uDC83 Protection of Building Openings
Windows and doors are the weak spots in the wall envelope. Requiring debris impact
resistant windows and doors or debris impact protective coverings (shutters) prevents
most window and door failures. This helps keep the wind and rain out of the
building, reducing structural damage, damage to finishes, and damage to contents.
%uDBC0%uDC83 Improved Roof Sheathing Attachment
Better attachment of the plywood or OSB roof sheathing to the roof structure through
appropriate fasteners and closer fastener spacing helps prevent sections of the roof
deck from being lifted off by the wind. This reduces progressive failures and wind
and water from penetrating the building envelope.
%uDBC0%uDC83 Improved Roof-Wall Connections
Installation of metal %u2018hurricane clips%u2019 or %u2018hurricane straps%u2019 provides a continuous load
path from the roof to the foundation, helping prevent catastrophic roof uplift failures.
All three mitigation options were used on areas south of the design 110 mph wind speed contour,
and only the improved roof-wall connection mitigation measure was used north of that contour.
This approximately represents requirements construction practice changes required by the IRC.
Reduction in Building Damage through Mitigation
The three mitigation strategies were applied to the hurricane scenario individually to assess the
effectiveness of each option. A combined analysis was also performed to provide an
understanding of the effectiveness of the combination of mitigation measures. The results of the
mitigation analysis are given in Tables 3. The results show a reduction of more than 38,000 to
the total number of buildings damaged. The mitigation measures are shown to be extremely
effective in reducing moderate, severe, and total destruction of buildings, with those reductions
being 50, 85, and 93% respectively.
Member Since: September 14, 2007 Posts: 3 Comments: 3963
362. pottery
2:38 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
House, are you convinced that the foundations and footings of the building are adequate, to withstand storm surge and wave-generated excavation, around your condo building?
In an otherwise substantial concrete or steel-framed structure, nothing will stand if it has its footings exposed, by surge or wave action.
Member Since: October 24, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 26204
361. Patrap
2:36 AM GMT on May 06, 2008
Staying in the Ol Condo eh?
Then you will love this Video from Aug 29th 2005, just inside the Breach at the 17th ST. Canal shot by the Fireman who rescued Hundreds for 4 days. That thing Swung Back and forth in Cat 2 winds my friend. Stock up On Dramamine.

Video of the 17th street canal floodwall collapsing. taken by New Orleans firefighters during Katrina.

Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 439 Comments: 137188

Viewing: 410 - 360

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9Blog Index

Top of Page

Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog


Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

Local Weather

18 °F

JeffMasters's Recent Photos

Afternoon clouds over Southwest Puerto Rico
Storm clouds gathering over Half Dome
Sierra snow
snowman at Yosemite Falls