In meteorology, a tropical cyclone (or tropical depression, tropical storm, typhoon, or hurricane, depending on strength and geographical context) is a type of low pressure system which generally forms in the tropics. While they can be highly destructive, tropical cyclones are an important part of the atmospheric circulation system, which moves heat from the equatorial region toward the higher latitudes.These things used to be phenomenally regular (in the late 80s and through the 90s, anyway). From April/May to September/October, one after the other, they would show up. They were moderately predictable, like salespeople who ring the bell in the middle of your Sunday nap. You knew they would show up once or twice a month, but you were never sure exactly when. The sky would start to turn leaden, battleshippy. You would read in the paper, or listen to the AIR newsreader's dire tones, that there was a "depression in the Bay".
There was no telling where each one would end up. Would it try to diddle the good people of the Godavari-Krishna doab into staying at home, while it went and lavished its tender attentions on the good people the Madras, Nellore and Prakasam country? Would it feint a move towards Puri and Konark, but actually come storming through the N. Circars and extinguish itself in the Agency areas? Or would it bugger off in a generally nor-noreasterly direction and do unspeakable things to the long suffering people of the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Irrawady deltas?
Equally, there was no telling how strong it would be. At the bottom of the scale, you had your depressions that stayed depressions, and lived up to their names. Annoying, gloomy, wet things that draped themselves over all the land and sobbed their guts out in slow motion. Some were made of sterner stuff. Vigorous demonstrations of strength and intent, in the form of rain, wind, whirling leaves and fallen pylons up and down the coast. Not enough to seriously interfere with life, other than plant the voluptuous maybe-no-school-tomorrow thought in impressionable minds, and disappoint. Mama Gaia saying, "I was here".
Once every few years, the elements would bestir themseles into putting up a real show of power, usually with tragic consequences. The Regional Meteorological Centre in Mumbai informs us that in October 1737 one of these whoppers hit the Calcutta deltaic region and took 300,000 lives to the accompaniment of a 12 metre storm surge. 12 metres!! In December 1964, the Rameswaram cyclone wiped out the town of Dhanushkodi, and en passant carried off a passenger train and a biggish bridge. The Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) storm of November 1970 tried to pip the 1737 one in the Lives Lost Stakes and seems to have given a good account of itself (this disaster's aftermath must surely have had something to do with the geo-political events of the next year). In November 1977, much of coastal Andhra Pradesh was hammered by a storm that took 10,000 lives. Even closer to our times (1990, 1999) there have been tastes of disaster. The Orissa Supercyclone of 1999 was the last really humongous event. Since then, things have been ominously quiet.
There are many places on the internet where you can find information on tropical storms and hurricanes. That stalwart newspaper, The Hindu publishes a satellite image every day, which you can use in your betting games. Don't worry, the one in this picture is Cyclone Fanoos (yes, they're naming them nowadays), which weakened in to a depression and crossed the Tamil Nadu coast at Vedaranyam a few hours back. The Indian Meteorological Department is slow, but purportedly has animated satellite and Doppler imagery (a la weather.com).
Hurricanealley has a Bay of Bengal section where you can track the progress of cyclones in the bay. But why settle for chaff when you can go directly to the motherlode? The US Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center provides eminently readable information on the path of cyclones around the world.
They also have a plain text message written by Tom Clancy.
MOVEMENT PAST SIX HOURS - 270 DEGREES AT 04 KTS
POSITION ACCURATE TO WITHIN 060 NM
POSITION BASED ON CENTER LOCATED BY SATELLITE
110600Z --- 11.0N 77.7E
MAX SUSTAINED WINDS - 020 KT, GUSTS 030 KT
DISSIPATED AS A SIGNIFICANT TROPICAL CYCLONE OVER LAND
TC 06B WILL CONTINUE ITS WESTERLY TRACK UNDER THE
SOUTHWESTERN PERIPHERY OF THE LOW TO MID LEVEL STEERING RIDGE
LOCATED OVER THE NORTHERN BAY OF BENGAL.
and so on. They even have a ship avoidance graphic.
So if you happen to be driving a US Navy warship in these waters (as some of us do during weekends), you might want to take a gander at this ever so often. Note that Baaz and Fanoos having departed for their Meteorological Abodes, the corresponding graphics and warnings are no longer available on the website, but they do track Bay of Bengal cyclones too.
One has noticed recently that the stalwart newspaper has 'lifted' the graphic verbatim (pictoratim?) from the JTWC website and planted it on their front page. One is not sure if all sources were credited or not. Finally, we have the National Hurricane Center. The spelling of 'center' should help you identify the nation in question.
They're naming the Bay of Bengal storms using names from countries in this region. We recently had Baaz, and Fanoos. Strangely enough, both these storms hit Tamil Nadu, leaving many a scrawny Dravidian scratching his head in bewilderment, "Ennaaya idhu, indha Baaj, Fanoos? Onnume puriyillai." In certain quarters, voice has been lent to the Unspoken Thought that the names should be more sensitive to culture and geography. Therefore, we hereby declare, that all TN bound storms will submit to the following naming ordeal this year: Arumugam, Balasubramaniam, Chokkalingam, Dayanidhi, Elangovan ... Pachaiyyappan ... Thirunavukkarasu(!!) ...Venktachalapathi ... Yenkatachalapathi ... Zebra. Being the state animal of TN. If you take a close look at some of the better designed intersections in Madras.