Cyclone Michuang

The National Disaster Response Force rescuing citizens stuck in flash floods caused by Cyclone Michuang. Photo: @04NDRF/X

Cyclone Michuang triggers flash flooding along India’s southern coast; 5 lives lost so far

The warming oceans along with the El Nino phenomenon along with other two important oceanic phenomena, the Indian Ocean Dipole and Madden-Julian Oscillation, are also responsible for the rapid intensification of cyclones that is triggering the heavy rain

Cyclone Michuang over the Bay of Bengal has triggered torrential rain over North Tamil Nadu’s coastline and South Andhra Pradesh since Sunday. Flash flooding in Chennai has claimed five lives so far. 

The cyclone is now shifting further south towards Bapatla along the Andhra Pradesh coast, but according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the storm will weaken before making landfall because of its proximity to the coast. It is expected to shift in the north-east direction, parallel to the coast. Even though the cyclone is likely to weaken, moderate to heavy rainfall has been predicted over Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha over the next few days. The map below by IMD showcases the trajectory.

Timely, but not normal

Michuang is the sixth cyclonic storm to hit the Indian seas this year. While tropical storms in the Bay of Bengal are not unusual for this time of the year—December is peak season—the intensity of the rain that has been triggered by the cyclone is not normal. The reason for the severe intensity is warming oceans, which act as an energy source for these storms. According to scientists, it is not just the sea surface temperature, but also the volume of warm water in the ocean that is triggering the high intensity. 

The warming oceans along with the El Nino phenomenon along with other two important oceanic phenomena, the Indian Ocean Dipole and Madden-Julian Oscillation, are also responsible for the rapid intensification of cyclones that is triggering the heavy rain. 

“Changes in ocean-cyclone interactions have emerged in recent decades in response to Indian Ocean warming and are to be closely monitored with improved observations since future climate projections demonstrate continued warming of the Indian Ocean at a rapid pace along with an increase in the intensity of cyclones in this basin,” said Dr Roxy Mathew Koll, climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology.

Loss and damage from cyclones in Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean witnesses 5-6 cyclones in a year, The death toll from each is massive when compared to other regions. Cyclone Fani in 2019 led to damages worth $1.6 billion, and destroyed more than 500,000 homes in Odisha. Cyclone Amphan was yet another powerful cyclone that tore through West Bengal, causing damage of $13 billion to infrastructure and crops.