Heavy Damage in India From Phailin, but a Low Death Toll

Published: 2:49 PM GMT on October 14, 2013

Tropical Cyclone Phailin has left behind a shattered coast in northeast India's Odisha region, but a remarkably low death toll, after making landfall on Saturday near the town of Gopalpur. According to media reports, the death toll from the cyclone is the 22 - 36 range, which is extremely low, considering this is a region where 10,000 died in a similar-strength cyclone in 1999. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) provided excellent early warning information for Phailin, predicting on October 9 that the cyclone would strike on October 12 with at least Category 2-strength winds. Civil defense in India took the warnings seriously, and operated the largest evacuation effort in the nation's history--nearly 1 million people--one that undoubtedly saved hundreds of lives. There were far more shelters available to put the evacuees in, compared to in 1999, thanks to a major effort to build more shelters after the terrible 1999 Odisha cyclone. The high death toll in the 1999 cyclone was blamed, in part, due to lack of shelters.

Figure 1. Evacuated Indian villagers get down from a truck at a relief camp as it rains near Berhampur, India, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Bikas Das)

Figure 2. Villagers take refuge in a cyclone shelter at Gokhorkuda village in, Ganjam district about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the eastern Indian city Bhubaneswar, India, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Biswaranjan Rout)

According to media reports, Phailin brought a storm surge of up to 3.5 meters (11 feet) to portions of the coast. I estimate the cyclone's winds were 125 - 140 mph at landfall--Category 3 to 4. The pressure bottomed out at 938 mb in Gopalpur as the eye passed over. At its peak strength 12 hours before landfall, the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) rated Phailin as a Category 5 storm with 160 mph winds. JTWC has rated only three other Bay of Bengal cyclones that strong: the 1999 Odisha Cyclone (10,000 killed in India), Cyclone Sidr of 2007 (4,200 killed in Bangladesh), and the 1991 02B cyclone that hit Bangladesh (138,000 killed.) All had top winds of 160 mph. There has only been one Category 5 cyclone on record in the Arabian Sea, Cyclone Gonu of 2007 (165 mph winds.) Accurate satellite records of North Indian Ocean tropical cyclones go back no earlier than 1980.

Figure 3. Indian fishermen look at boats destroyed by Cyclone Phailin at the Gopalpur Port on October 14, 2013. (MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Typhoon Wipha a heavy rainfall threat for Japan
Huge and powerful Category 2 Typhoon Wipha is now weakening as it heads north towards Japan. The storm peaked as a Category 4 storm with 135 mph winds on Sunday, but has weakened to 110 mph winds, despite warm ocean temperatures of 28 - 29°C and moderate wind shear of 10 - 15 knots, because of an eyewall replacement cycle and ingestion of dry air. On Tuesday, Wipha will encounter cooler waters and higher wind shear, which should substantially weaken the storm as it recurves to the northeast and passes just offshore from Tokyo. The coast of Japan should experience winds below hurricane force, if the core of Wipha passes offshore as expected, but heavy rains of 4 - 8" capable of causing damaging flooding will likely affect portions of the coast, including Tokyo. Heavy rains from Wipha may be a concern for the Fukushima nuclear site, where rainfall from Typhoon Man-Yi on September 16 complicated clean-up efforts of the reactors damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Figure 4. MODIS satellite image of Typhoon Wipha, taken at approximately 02:30 UTC on October 14, 2013. At the time, Wipha was a Category 3 storm with winds of 125 mph. Image credit: NASA.

Typhoon Nari nearing landfall in Vietnam
Torrential rains are falling in Vietnam due to Category 1 Typhoon Nari, which is nearing landfall in the central part of the country. More than 180,000 people have been evacuated in advance of the storm. Nari battered the Philippines on Friday, killing thirteen people and leaving 2.1 million people without power on the main Philippine island of Luzon.

98L in the Eastern Atlantic disorganized
A tropical wave (Invest 98L) about 700 miles east of the Lesser Antilles Islands is headed west-northwest at 10 mph. Satellite loops show that 98L has lost most of its organization and heavy thunderstorms. The disturbance is under a high 20 - 30 knots of wind shear, and the shear is expected to remain high for the next two days. In their 8 am EDT Monday Tropical Weather Outlook, NHC gave the disturbance 2-day development odds of 0%, and 5-day odds of 10%. 98L's projected west-northwest track is expected take it close to the Northern Lesser Antilles Islands by Thursday, according to the 00Z Monday run of the European model.

Moisture associated with Tropical Storm Octave in the Eastern Pacific bringing needed rain to Texas
In the Eastern Pacific, we have two tropical cyclones: newly-developed Tropical Storm Priscilla, and Tropical Storm Octave. Octave is the only one that is a threat to land, and the 60-mph tropical storm is headed NNW towards Mexico's Baja Peninsula, where 3 - 6" of rain is expected over the next few days. Octave is expected to dissipate before making it to Baja, due to increasing dry air and wind shear. Octave and Priscilla are embedded in a large plume of tropical moisture that is riding up to the northeast over Mexico and Texas. Flood watches and warnings are posted over many areas of Texas, where widespread rains of 2 - 6" have fallen over the past day. While the heavy rains have caused some moderate flooding, the precipitation is mostly welcome, as it will make a substantial dent in the multi-year drought that has gripped much of Texas. Wunderblogger Lee Grenci makes the point in his latest post that much of the moisture generating the heavy rains in Texas is actually coming from the Gulf of Mexico, due to the clockwise flow of low-level air around a high pressure system over the Upper Midwest.

Jeff Masters

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.