New Delhi, May 24 -- The cyclone scare of May-end is back in West Bengal.

Close to the 15th anniversary of cyclone Aila, fourth of cyclone Amphan and third anniversary of cyclone Yaas, a 'very severe cyclone' is likely to hit the coastal areas of West Bengal and Bangladesh between May 26 evening and May 27 morning, sources in the India Meteorological Department (IMD) told Down To Earth.

Officially, IMD predicted on May 23 that a 'severe cyclone' would be generated by the evening of May 26. But a senior IMD official from Delhi confirmed the possibility of a very severe cyclone, with a speed around 125 to 135 kilometres per hour (kmph), hitting the region.

Aila had made landfall on May 25, 2009, with a highest speed of 120 kmph. Yaas - which had made landfall on May 26, 2021 - attained the highest speed of 140 kmph. In contrast, Amphan intensified to become a super cyclone, and one of the strongest tropical cyclones in the Bengal delta, before it made landfall on May 20, 2020. All three cyclones caused massive damage in the Sundarbans and other parts of West Bengal.

The current cyclone will be christened as 'Remal' once the depression intensifies into a cyclonic storm. It may impact the Sundarbans region if the landfall happens on the Indian coast and coincides with high tide.

"It (low pressure area, the status on May 23) is very likely to continue to move north-eastwards and concentrate into a Depression over central parts of the Bay of Bengal by the morning of May 24, 2024. Thereafter, it is very likely to continue to move north-eastwards, intensifying further into a cyclonic storm over east-central Bay of Bengal by May 25 morning. Subsequently, it would move nearly northwards and reach near the Bangladesh and adjoining West Bengal coasts by May 26 evening as a severe cyclonic storm," said a communique shared by Somnath Dutta, head of IMD Alipore, on May 23 afternoon.

"Kolkata is expected to be affected and likely to receive a lot of rain between May 25 and 27," Dutta said. Incidentally, IMD has issued an orange warning for May 26 and 27, predicting as heavy as 20 centimetres of rain in the city.

"Continuing to move nearly northward, it is very likely to cross Bangladesh and adjoining West Bengal coasts between Sagar Island and Khepupara around May 26 midnight as a severe cyclonic storm," stated the official release of IMD issued May 24 morning.

Whither landfall?

Sources in the cyclone division of IMD Delhi pointed out the possibility of the cyclone becoming a very severe one. "It's early to say but the system is likely to further intensify into a very severe cyclone with a wind speed in between 125 to 135 kmph," said a senior IMD scientist, adding that the landfall is expected to happen between the evening of May 26 and the morning of May 27.

"Too early to predict the exact landfall point as of now but it may happen in the coastal areas adjacent to Digha or the Sundarbans in West Bengal and Khulna in Bangladesh," further pointed out the expert, noting that the probability of the cyclone hitting the Bangladesh coast was higher.

A senior official in West Bengal's disaster management department said the department is keeping a close watch over the cyclone movement and getting ready to respond quickly if it hits the West Bengal coast.

"The weather system is changing direction rapidly. Initially, it was directed towards Visakhapatnam, then shifted towards Bhubaneswar, and now towards West Bengal and Bangladesh. The chief secretary has already held a meeting and alerted all stakeholders," said the official.

The Sundarbans

Experts point out that the cyclone may cause partial damage to the Sundarbans, if the landfall happens on the Indian coast and coincides with high tide.

Kolkata Port Trust (KPT) data shows that high tides are expected at about 11 pm on May 26 night and around 11 am on May 27 morning, with the highest height expected to be around 5 metres.

"If the landfall somehow completely coincides with high tide, the water level may rise by a few feet. But there may be partial damage as the high tide level is not that high at this time of year," said an expert associated with KPT.

"We have seen how during Aila, and partially during Amphan, the cyclones and the high tide combined to create havoc. Hence, we are quite concerned," said Animesh Mandal of Gosaba island in the Sundarbans.

"As the sea near the West Bengal coast is pretty shallow, the cyclonic air exacerbates the water surges, impacting embankments," said another IMD expert, who pointed out that the monsoon system may also influence the cyclone. DTE

Views expressed are personal

Published by HT Digital Content Services with permission from Millennium Post.