Why Are Cyclonic Events the ‘New Normal’? Scientists Explain

Cyclonic events like ‘Nisarga’ will be much more severe and more frequent in the future due to climate change. 

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Barely a week after Cyclone ‘Amphan’ wreaked havoc across West Bengal and Odisha, Maharashtra and Gujarat are now bracing for the landfall of Cyclone ‘Nisarga’.

According to IMD estimates, the cyclone is expected to make landfall by Wednesday, 3 May. Coastal Maharashtra is bracing for wind speeds of over 90-100 kmph and heavy to extremely heavy rainfall is expected in isolated regions of Maharashtra.

NDRF teams and Western Naval Command along with the disaster management team are on standby, preparing for an event that last occurred in Mumbai over a century ago. While post-monsoon cyclones are a familiar event, this is the first time that a pre-monsoon cyclone has developed to the extent that ‘Nisarga’ has.

According to Dr Anjal Prakash, the Research Director and Adjunct Associate Professor, Bharti Institute of Public Policy at ISB, these kind of cyclonic everts are going to be the ‘new normal’. All thanks to global warming.

“Of course, these cyclones are climatic events and this has been proven by numerous IIPC scientist over the last 5 to 7 years. We have analysed more than 1,000 literature to come to the conclusion that some of these events can be attributed to climate change process.”
Dr Anjal Prakash, Research Director and Adjunct Associate Professor, Bharti Institute of Public Policy, ISB

“What happened actually is global warming, in which the Earth has warmed by one degree since the pre-industrial age, and this global warming has led to warming of the ocean. The carbon that is there in the environment has sunk into the ocean and the ocean has warmed by about 0.8 degree. Now, the ocean is more acidic, warmer and less productive and these impacts the cyclonic events,” he added.

Dr Prakash points out that such events will be much more severe and more frequent in the future.

How Will ‘Nisarga’ Impact Mumbai?

Given how unpredictable cyclonic events are, it’s difficult to predict the severity of the storm. But the pattern that cyclones follow is that they result in a thunderstorm, lightening and then heavy rains, that are expected in the city over the next two days.

One drawback for Mumbai, however, could be flooding in low lying areas with poor drainage facilities, says Dr Prakash. With Mumbai already battling COVID-19 cases, this could be a huge setback.

The key to protecting Mumbai from cyclonic events in the future would be to implement the recommendations of the Madhav Chitale committee after the 2005 deluge, believes Dr Prakash.

Some of the observations made by the panel included inadequate drainage lines in the city, encroachment on available drainage lines, ponds and reservoirs destroyed in favour of new buildings and the systematic destruction of mangroves, says Dr Prakash.

“These mangrove forests which have been the first lien of defence against any cyclone or these kinds of events had been systematically destroyed and this is something we really need to protect. I know there are many groups working in Mumbai to protect mangroves but there seems to be a lack of political will to support these groups and work towards a much better environmental future.”
Dr Anjal Prakash, Research Director and Adjunct Associate Professor, Bharti Institute of Public Policy, ISB

The only way forward would be for the BMC to invest in environmentally benign projects that could help prepare Mumbai for more such events that loom around the corner, adds Dr Anjal Prakash.

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