Mumbai to be hit by cylcone ‘not seen in centuries’: Columbia Univ. weather expert

Ritu Jha-

Last week it was West Bengal facing an extremely the severe cyclonic storm Amphan, and now its Mumbai’s turn to brace for a similar or even possibly much stronger cyclone which has started brewing a couple days ago over the Arabian Sea.

The low-pressure area that has formed over the southeast and adjoining east central Arabian Sea is likely to intensify into a cyclone by June 2, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has said.

Adam H. Sobel, a Columbia University professor who teaches Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Ocean and Climate Physics, has visited Mumbai a couple times for his research on Mumbai storms. He told indica, he saw computer models simulating conditions in the Arabian Sea a couple days ago, and he believes the approaching storm could be something Mumbai has not seen in centuries.

Adam Sobel
Adam Sobel

“What is true here, there has not been a major cycle in Mumbai since at least the late 19th century or may be longer. Even though there has been flooding from rain, the city is not accustomed to it,” said Sobel, who specializes in atmospheric and climate dynamics, tropical meteorology and extreme weather and climate. “And I am concerned about it.”

According to weather models, rain will commence over the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) from June 1, mainly in the form of passing showers. On June 2 and the first half of June 3, there will be persistent rainfall along with winds. The highest intensity is expected between the evening of June 2 and the morning of June 3. The weather will start normalizing from the second half of June 3, after which mostly clear skies and humid weather conditions will continue in Mumbai.

Mumbai, which is already going through a crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, is gearing up, and IMD officials have already briefed the state’s top officials.

But the statement does not carry an alert of a sever cyclone which Mumbai haven’t seen in centuries. When asked about today’s  technology he said forecasting is much better than it used to be but it’s just the questions of when officials issue what kind of statement.

Explaining why they delay forecasts, he said because a few years ago the computer models where not so good. And so, as they’re predicting that this storm is going to hit, the forecasters won’t take it seriously because sometimes the computer models have not been that accurate.

“So it’s not just India, it’s the world. They don’t start issuing the serious warning until they see there is a cycle. But it is getting better and better over time and don’t want to scare people,” said Sobel, who earned his PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1998. He also agreed that now technology has accelerated faster. Even the US changed recently when they would issue forecasts and hurricane warning to much earlier.

He said that now IMD is writing about it and have an advisory. They have named it Nisarga, according to media reports. The professor of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics said, “Yes, they are not talking about the full range of possibilities and might be they have to say this is going to happen. So, people could make their best judgement.

“We are just watching what models are producing. We have computer models, they are simulating. The storm did not start forming just recently,” he said on why it is not yet announced as being so serious.

Mumbai rainstorms are not new, but this seems not normal, with flooding by rain but this could have high winds and storm surges.

“It’s hard to say but we know for sure this scenario has not happened earlier.”

Sharing his views, he said the city is quite vulnerable and not well prepared. There are a lot of low-lying areas. Nothing is right at the ocean, and nothing is protecting it with the high population not excavated easily with the roads being too congested as well.

“I hope this storm would be weaker, but I haven’t seen such kind of scenario in the models before,” he said.

When asked on the category of the storm/cyclone, the professor said the Indian system is different than the US system, but it could be anywhere between the tropical storm which is kind of weak up to the highest model – could become category 3 which is quite powerful. If that happens Mumbai would be “very-very-serious.”

“I cannot forecast. but people should be aware there could be possibility of a big event,” Sobel said confidently.

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