Cyclone Tauktae is intensifying with surprising speed, bearing the tell-tale signs of climate change
- 2021 is the fourth consecutive year of pre-monsoon cyclones forming over the Arabian Sea with
- Warmer sea surface temperatures (SSTs), more rainfall, and higher sea levels are compounding the effects of climate change are making natural disasters like Cyclone Tauktae go from bad to worse.
- Normally, the Arabian Sea's SST clocks between 28 to 29 degrees Celsius but, right now, the water is at least two degrees warmer at 31 degrees Celsius.
The ‘extremely severe’ cyclonic storm has intensified rapidly over the last 24 hours. And the weather conditions are in favour of the Tauktae getting even stronger over the next 12 hours, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).
Mumbai was forced to shut down its airport, coastal areas in Gujarat are being evacuated, COVID-19 patients are being relocated and farmers are worried if their crop will survive the downpour.
Whether it's warmer sea surface temperatures (SSTs), more rainfall, or higher sea levels — the compounding effects of climate change are making natural disasters like Cyclone Tauktae go from bad to worse.
“India has one of the longest coastlines of 7,500 kilometres and therefore our vulnerabilities to the cyclones are exposed every time a new cyclone makes landfall.”
Global warming is giving cyclones more power as the Arabian Sea gets getting hotter
Cyclones are fueled by the available heat in the water body they are forming over. It’s one of the reasons why there are more tropical cyclones in the Bay of Bengal than in the Arabian Sea.
The Bay of Bengal may be warmer, but the Arabian Sea is getting hotter, too. Normally, its SST clocks between 28 to 29 degrees Celsius. But, right now, the water is two degrees warmer at 31 degrees Celsius.
“Climate projections indicate that the Arabian Sea will continue warming due to increasing carbon emissions, resulting in more intense cyclones in the future,” said Roxy Mathew Koll, a scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM).
According to the US weather agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), if global temperatures increase by 2 degrees Celsius — the global warming temperature limit set by the Paris agreement — the intensity of cyclones could still worsen by as much as 10%.
Warmer waters aren’t calmer waters — and India needs to brace itself
Climate change also means that there is more rainfall during the storm. More rain, combined with fast winds, means more damage.
As sea levels rise, the storm has to travel further over the sea before it can make landfall. That means it has more time to gain strength before actually reaching the coast. “Considering that both cyclones and floods due to heavy rains are increasing across the west coast with a gradual rise in sea level, we need to be prepared,” said Prakash.
According to him, in order to brace for the frequency of storms like Cyclone Taukae, India needs to start by building more climate resilient coastal infrastructure. And, rather than have a knee jerk reaction to such incidents, the country needs to accept that pre-monsoon cyclones are going to get more common. This means having a special task force to tackle such natural disasters in the long term.
The onset of Cyclone Tauktae is a double whammy for India. Not only does it need to protect its people along the coastline, but it also has to deal with the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
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