Potentially catastrophic cyclone takes aim on India and Bangladesh

Category 4 equivalent cyclone in the Bay of Bengal

Intense cyclone heading toward India and Bangladesh
Intense cyclone heading toward India and Bangladesh

India – Our Atlantic Hurricane Season may have gotten off to an early start with Tropical Storm Arthur, but a much, much more powerful storm is underway on the other side of the world.

Cyclone Amphan tied the strongest winds ever recorded in the Bay of Bengal Monday morning at 165 mph. This would make it equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane if compared to the scale we use for our Atlantic tropical cyclones. What’s more, it rapidly intensified from a relatively weak Category 1 storm to its peak strength in just 24 hours.

The storm’s winds have since dropped a touch in intensity, down to 150 mph as of Monday afternoon. This would still make it a Category 4 storm by our scale. Further weakening is possible as the storm encounters wind shear, but the forecast from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center still has it as a Category 3-level storm as it approaches landfall by Wednesday.

But the greatest threat Cyclone Amphan brings is not necessarily its winds, but its potentially catastrophic storm surge. The cyclone is quite large, with its tropical storm-force winds extending roughly 380 miles in diameter. These sprawling winds act to scoop incredible amounts of water and push them ahead of it.

To compound the problem, the shallow Bay of Bengal and geography of the coast along India and Bangladesh make the region very vulnerable to storm surge. The Bay itself acts as a funnel, to further enhance the storm’s impacts. Current estimates are that 13-16 feet of storm surge may occur along somewhere near the India/Bangladesh border.

This part of the world is no stranger to intense and extremely deadly storms. Just last year, the very strong Cyclone Fani, with Category 4 equivalent winds of 155 mph, struck the area and killed 89 people. The deadliest tropical cyclone in world history occurred in the Bay of Bengal in 1970, when the cataclysmic Bhola Cyclone made landfall in Bangladesh, killing an estimated 300,000 - 500,000 people.

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