Saturday, December 10, 2005

On Cyclones

If you grew up near the Coromandel Coast, in the Northern Circars for example, the the weather generally played a fair to middling part in your life. Indeed, evidence of this obsession with the ritus may be found elsewhere in these pages (here and here). In particular, one remembers those annual offerings that the Bay of Bengal used to dish out with impressive, metronomic frequency - the tropical cyclone.

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

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.

         110600Z --- 11.0N 77.7E

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.

OK, enough.


Krishna Kumar said...

Hey, I followed your link from Samanth's blog. Just to iterate, they have already resorted to Dravidian naming conventions. The current cyclone that has weakened into a depression and is expected to cross last night and due to which schools were closed yesterday and lead to more sunshine than you would see in Teletubbies is bound to cross tonight. No sign of rain till now. School kids are having to do a forenoon and afternoon three hour a piece exam! This one is called Mala. Thank the Dravidianising has not led to storming the female-bastion of hurricane and typhoon and cyclone naming. Would be unimaginable to have a cyclone named Veerappan.

Ludwig said...

[krishna kumar] Welcome! With reference to Bay Of Bengal/North Indian Ocean cyclones, the Telegraph reports that what they've done is asked the BoB countries to all give a set of names, and they pick one at random. Baaz was Oman's contribution, and Fanoos is Pakistan's. Mala is a Sri Lankan entry. India has come up with the following stupendously creative names: Agni, Akash, Bijli, Jal. It appearas as though the third name was originally meant for a racehorse, but an accident with name lists occurred somewhere in Delhi babudom.

On the US side of the planet, this document (PDF) reveals all.

Finally, thanks for commenting on my long cyclone post! I can't believe this is not the burning topic of the era. Good to know that someone cares.

Krishna Kumar said...

Hey thanks... and it is amusing to note that we talk of cyclone as a 'burning' topic and the con-aggressionists in Delhi are planning to call it 'bijli' where the name would suit more a short-circuiting somewhere with a little powder-puff smoke wisp at the end of it all! Anyway, I was talking to Samanth day before at a party and he was saying how there is a whole load of you guys who can write well (by which we both concur not on the syntac-tability or the vocabs but choice of topics as well as lucid readability and yet amusing) but stuck on the IT backbone in Hyd and Blore and elsewhere! Tut tut. Keep on blogging.

And am curious at your Teutonic nick and the attendant quote about shutting your mouth where one must not end up putting foot in the mouth!

Ludwig said...

[krishna kumar]
" guys who can write well..."

Thank you, thank you. Muchly encouraged.

"...but stuck on the IT backbone in Hyd and Blore and elsewhere. Tut tut..."

We are, aren't we? :) Could've been in the azhagu nagaram where actually a bunch of interesting things seem to be happening.

Samanth's posts themselves are very inspirational. One believes that the cyclone thing was done solely and expressly with the intent of somehow introducing the word diddle into a post (ref: Samanth's review of the Jeffrey Archer book).

"And am curious at your Teutonic nick and the attendant quote about shutting your mouth where one must not end up putting foot in the mouth!"

Ah. No particular reason. When the blog was created, it asked for a "line" and then it seemed appropriate to say something about not saying anything. Therefore the quote. And, working backwards, the nick. Have in the past somewhat closely studied the man's life, not being able to comprehend the man's philosophy. He seems like such a tortured soul that the nick is also appropriate :)

Space Bar said...

does this mean you are where the bijli came from? or are you having voluptuous thoughts put in your head?

wv: squent. i cannot even begin to unravel that one for fear of what it will reveal.