Odisha: A Leader in Disaster Preparedness

Tropical Cyclone Fani made landfall in India around 9:30 AM on Friday, May 3 as one of the country’s strongest tropical cyclone in twenty years. Technically Tropical Cyclone Hudhud in October 2014 was somewhat stronger, but Tropical Cyclone Fani was a vastly larger system with a lot more water being carried along with it. At Fani’s peak intensity, maximum sustained wind speeds were around 150 miles per hour with gusts to around 190 miles per hour. Wind speeds were over 124 miles per hour when Fani made landfall in Odisha – home to 46 million people. Approximately 14 districts in Odisha have been affected by Cyclone Fani, over one millions people were evacuated from the storm, and approximately 900 cyclone shelters were set up for those who were displaced.

View of Fani as seen by the Japanese Himawari 8 satellite

The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission satellite passed over Tropical Cyclone Fani on May 1, 2019 as it continued strengthening and moving towards landfall in northeastern India. GPM found that some of the heaviest rainfall rates were up to 2 inches per hour! Rainfall amounts were forecast to be 6-12 inches, with the hardest hit locations seeing up to 20 inches. India’s Meteorological Department (IMD) forecast storm surges of approximately five feet, with conditions similar to that of a Category 4 hurricane.

The 3D and color-enhanced image shown here was created at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and shows how high thunderstorms reached into the troposphere and measured rainfall rates.

Following the storm, officials made the restoration of water supply the top priority of the state government, and now power restoration is now in full swing in the affected areas with additional skilled manpower being pulled in from other states. The state capital should have a fully restored power supply by May 12, although estimates for a full restoration of power supply could not be given for all districts as the government will need to rebuild the power infrastructure that was crippled by Cyclone Fani.

These images show city lighting on April 30, prior to the storm, and on May 5, 2019, two days after Fani made landfall (NASA).

While the devastating cyclone left behind a massive trail of destruction and has caused at least 41 deaths, the United Nations and other experts have praised India for its early warning systems and rapid evacuation of more than a million people, which helped minimize the loss of life from this deadly cyclone. Improved forecasting models, public awareness campaigns, and well-practiced and well-executed evacuations plans (backed by an army of first responders and volunteers). As soon as it was evident that Fani would certainly hit Odisha, emergency teams began evacuating those living in low-lying areas and moving 1.2 million residents away from danger areas. Alerts asking residents to stay indoors and follow instructions were issued repeatedly on TV and radio, and broadcast through loudspeakers in public places.

These alerts were made possible thanks to highly skilled forecasters at the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) who began monitoring the track and intensity of the storm as early as April 25. IMD began utilizing numerical models in 2014 to supplement their more traditional statistical modeling, which allowed forecasters to track Fani’s progress and wind profiles in the upper atmosphere. Denis McClean, a spokesperson for the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), praised the early warnings from the IMD, saying that their “almost pinpoint accuracy” enabled authorities to “conduct a well-targeted evacuation plan”. Across many platforms, the message was the same – major credit goes to the Indian authorities for averting a mass humanitarian disaster, despite the fact that a densely populated region was in the eye of the storm.

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