[Burning Issue] Tropical Cyclones and India


WMO has applauded the India Meteorological Department’s forecast and updates on super cyclone Amphan as “best practice” as the weather office made a series of predictions that correctly anticipated the path of the cyclone and the associated wind speed.

The Indian subcontinent is one of the worst affected regions in the world. The subcontinent with a long coastline of 8041 kilometres is exposed to nearly 10 per cent of the world’s tropical cyclones. Of these, the majority of have their initial genesis over the Bay of Bengal and strike the East coast of India. On an average, five to six tropical cyclones form every year, of which two or three could be severe. More cyclones occur in the Bay of Bengal than the Arabian Sea and the ratio is approximately 4:1. Cyclones occur frequently on both the coasts (the West coast – Arabian Sea; and the East coast – Bay of Bengal).


The Indian Ocean has made its mark on the global news cycle this year.  The year 2019 was one of the most active North Indian Ocean cyclone seasons on record. There were eight cyclonic storms in and around India—the highest number of cyclones in a single year since 1976.  With Amphan and Nisarga, the year 2020 is also on the same line. The Arabian Sea, usually not known to be prone to cyclones, has had four major cyclones in a few months.

What are Tropical Cyclones?

A Tropical cyclone is an intense circular storm that originates over warm tropical oceans and is characterized by low atmospheric pressure, high winds, and heavy rain.

  • Cyclones are formed over slightly warm ocean waters. The temperature of the top layer of the sea, up to a depth of about 60 meters, need to be at least 28°C to support the formation of a cyclone.
  • This explains why the April-May and October-December periods are conducive for cyclones.
  • Then, the low level of air above the waters needs to have an ‘anticlockwise’ rotation (in the northern hemisphere; clockwise in the southern hemisphere).
  • During these periods, there is an ITCZ in the Bay of Bengal whose southern boundary experiences winds from west to east, while the northern boundary has winds flowing east to west.
  • Once formed, cyclones in this area usually move northwest. As it travels over the sea, the cyclone gathers more moist air from the warm sea which adds to its heft.

Destruction caused by Cyclones

Cyclones are disastrous in many ways. They do more harm than any good to the coastal areas.

1) Strong Winds

  • Cyclones are known to cause severe damage to infrastructure through high-speed winds.
  • Very strong winds which accompany a cyclonic storm damages installations, dwellings, communications systems, trees etc., resulting in loss of life and property.

2) Torrential rains and inland flooding

  • Torrential rainfall (more than 30 cm/hour) associated with cyclones is another major cause of damages. Unabated rain gives rise to unprecedented floods.
  • Heavy rainfall from a cyclone is usually spread over a wide area and cause large scale soil erosion and weakening of embankments.

3) Storm Surge

  • A Storm surge can be defined as an abnormal rise of sea level near the coast caused by a severe tropical cyclone.
  • As a result of which seawater inundates low lying areas of coastal regions drowning human beings and life stock.
  • It causes eroding beaches and embankments, destroys vegetation and leads to the reduction of soil fertility.

Some (unexpected) benefits

Although Tropical cyclones are known for destruction they cause, when they strike they also bestow certain benefits to the climatic conditions of that area such as

  • Relieve drought conditions
  • Carry heat and energy away from the tropics and transport it towards temperate latitudes
  • Maintain a relatively stable and warm temperature worldwide

Management of Cyclones in India

In 2005, the country introduced new laws to set up what’s called the National Disaster Management Authority, a central agency charged with one thing: responding to and minimizing the impact of disasters.

A year later, in 2006, India established a National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), a specialized corps of highly trained men and women focused on disasters such as cyclones and earthquakes. It’s now comprised of almost 25,000 personnel.

Apart from institutional measures, there are many structural and non-structural measures  that have been taken for effective disaster management of cyclones:

  • The structural measures include construction of cyclone shelters, construction of cyclone-resistant buildings, road links, culverts, bridges, canals, drains, saline embankments, surface water tanks, communication and power transmission networks etc.
  • Non-structural measures like early warning dissemination systems, management of coastal zones, awareness generation and disaster risk management and capacity building of all the stakeholders involved.
  • These measures are being adopted and tackled on State to State basis under National Cyclone Risk Mitigation Project (NCRMP) being implemented through World Bank Assistance.

Issues in cyclone mitigation

  • Post than pre focus: Disaster management in India is largely confined to post-disaster relief works. It is more about management than loss prevention.
  • Population: One-third of the population in India lives in the coastal area. Most of them are marginalized people who are ill-prepared and unable to cope up with a disaster.
  • Poor response: The warning of a cyclone is not properly communicated between the concerned agencies. In many cases, the warning is not taken seriously by the agencies which cause delayed effort for the prevention of a disaster. This was evident in the recent Ockhi cyclone disaster.
  • Lack of awareness: among people about the impact and magnitude of the disaster. Also what to act during and post disasters.
  • Coordination Issues:There is also a lack of coordination between the local communities for search and rescue missions. Also poor coordination state and center coordination and its agencies.

What measures need to be taken for mitigation?

Pre Disaster

  • Provide cyclone forecasting, tracking and warning systems
  • Construction of cyclone shelters, cyclone-resistant buildings, road links, bridges, canals, drains etc.
  • Establishing Early Warning Dissemination System (EWDS) and Capacity building for coastal communities.

During disaster

  • Cautionary advice should be put out on social platforms urging people to stay safe
  • The perception of people decides the intensity of the disaster. If people take necessary proactive steps to deal with disaster then even the severe disaster can be dealt with minimum damage.
  • Delivery of food and health care via mobile hospitals, with priorities to women child & elders.
  • Protection of the community and their evacuation and quicker response.


  • It is vital that the learning from each event is shared nationally, and the capacity of officials and communities to manage disasters built continuously.
  • Among the securities available to individuals in many countries is insurance against property losses. Viable policies should be made available in India too.
  • Providing alternative means of communication, energy and transport just after the disaster.

Odisha’s success in handling Cyclones

  • In the year 1999, Odisha faced a super cyclone which took almost 15000 lives. Since then, it started to build a robust disaster management system priority basis.
  • As the extremely severe cyclone Amphan inched closer, the Odisha government rolled up its sleeves and took all precautionary measures, including the evacuation of the people to meet its zero causality target.
  • Just as the IMD issued the warning, the Odisha government began its cyclone preparations which included evacuation, movement of people in low-lying areas and kutcha houses to cyclone shelters, safeguarding Rabi crops in mandis, deployment of ODRAF, NDRF teams, among other measures.

Let’s learn from Odisha success Model

1. Build a relief infrastructure

  • Until 1999, Odisha didn’t have a well laid out plan for disaster management. Two months after the cyclone hit, the Odisha State Disaster Management Authority was set up, and plans put in place.
  • Around 900 cyclone shelters have been built in vulnerable pockets of the state, with systems in place for the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people.

2. Accurate early warning systems

  • The IMD has built an effective service to predict accurate timings of cyclone formation in the Bay of Bengal and when it will make landfall along India’s coastline.
  • This early warning system enables the state to be disaster-ready and to minimize the loss of lives. It’s then crucial that people follow the protocols in place when the warnings come in.

3. Clear communication plan

  • Roughly 2.6 m text messages were sent to locals in the clear language before cyclone Fani hit, keeping those potentially affected alert.
  • Regular press briefings were made by officials to update people of the approaching cyclone.
  • People were repeatedly advised over all forms of media not to panic and given clear “do and don’ts”. This helped in the record evacuation of 1.2 m people to safe buildings.

4. Effective co-ordination of groups

  • Preparations to fight the onslaught should involve a number of government agencies, as well as local community groups and volunteers working together.
  • The government’s disaster response forces were pre-positioned in vulnerable locations, food packets for air-dropping were made ready for air force helicopters to drop to people.

5. Protecting natural defenses

  • Mangroves as usual acted as a natural shield against the impact of cyclones and floods on the coastal areas.
  • Activists have been fighting for the cause of natural protectors like mangroves and salt pans even as flooding incidents regularly occur in the coastal region.

India in line with Sendai Framework

Preparedness to manage disaster risks is a continuous and integrated process resulting from a wide range of risk reduction activities. The preparedness not only involves coordinated planning, and reduces duplication of disaster response efforts but also increases the overall effectiveness of such efforts.

  • The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction is the first major agreement of the post-2015 development agenda, with seven targets and four priorities for action.
  • It is a 15-year; voluntary, non-binding agreement that recognizes that the state has the primary role to reduce disaster risk but that responsibility should be shared with other stakeholders including the local government, the private sector, and other stakeholders.
  • In cyclone disasters (like Amphan, Fani), India presented a good example of its disaster preparedness and compliance to the Sendai Framework.
  • Zero casualty policy and the pinpoint accuracy of the IMD’s early warning system helped to reduce the possibility of deaths.

Way Forward

  • India’s improved and timely forecast for cyclones gives the government opportunity and time to prepare and manage.
  • Better linkages between sectoral ministries and national disaster management authorities needed in countries when it comes to assessing disaster risks.
  • It is important to acknowledge the problem beyond disaster management framing and should be framed as an adaptation need.
  • Now the imperative for India is not only to have infrastructure that is resilient, functional and that can bounce back after a disaster, but also to have infrastructure withstand and be operational during a crisis.
  • For this India need to employ more technology, strict following of command structure, and most importantly the participation and cooperation of local communities in the affected area.



With the advent of climate change, tropical cyclones are not going ‘anywhere’, rather they are poised to become more frequent and accompanied by increased intensity. Regardless of state support and administrative help, people themselves have to step up to create local solutions using their own practices.

In this regard, it is necessary to find ways to prevent the cyclones from becoming an unmanageable national disaster.











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