Cyclone Phailin Will Do Major Damage

tc phailin

Cyclone Phailin struck the east coast of India Saturday evening (India is 12&#189 hours ahead of PDT). A few hours before landfall top winds were estimated at 120 knots, gusting to 145 knots (around 135 mph, gusting to 165 mph).

It will be a while before we know the true extent of the damage. It’s likely catastrophic.

A cyclone is the name used near the Indian Ocean for storms we call hurricanes. In the Western Pacific these same storms are called typhoons.

Storms like this kill in a multitude of ways. Here in the US the biggest threat is not the wind!

“In the last 30 years, inland flooding has been responsible for more than half the deaths associated with tropical cyclones in the United States.”
Ed Rappaport
National Hurricane Center

That’s likely the case in India as well.

The Indian coast on the Bay of Bengal is reasonably flat with small mountains as close as 15 miles from the shore. Tidal and inland flooding are likely. Mudslides on rain soaked hillsides are possible too.

The force of the wind is so strong it’s difficult to fathom based on our own personal experiences. I’m going to use a little math, but I’ll explain every step. It’s worth understanding.

The force exerted by wind is logarithmic. That means in the calculation we multiple the wind speed by itself–we square it.

Simply put, if you double the wind speed, you quadruple the force! A 60 mph wind has four times the force as a 30 mph wind. A 120 mph wind has 16 times the force as that 30 mph wind!

Take a sheet of standard 4’x8′ plywood–32 square feet. If it was hit directly by a 165 mph gust it would be subject to over a ton of force–2,230 pounds!

The formula is: wind speed x wind speed x .00256 equals the force per square foot. Multiply by 32 for a sheet of plywood. So…

165 * 165 *.00256 * 32 = 2230.272 pounds

It will be a while before we really know what’s gone on in India. However, based on what we know expect a major tragedy even though this storm was well forecast and warnings issued. Sometimes there’s just no place to go.

Cyclone Phailin Takes Aim On India

Cyclone Phailin full track

02B_112330sairUntil a few minutes ago I hadn’t heard of Brahmapur. It’s an Indian city on the Bay of Bengal. There are around 350,000 residents–the size of Pittsburgh. The latest projections place Cyclone Phailin near Brahmapur as is makes landfall early Saturday evening local time (Saturday morning here in California).

This is no little storm. It’s likely to strike the coast with winds of 140 mph or higher. The Time of India quotes unnamed experts predicting winds over 190 mph!

Boston meteorologist Eric Fisher notes: “Over the past 200 years, 69% of tropical cyclone deaths worldwide were in India + Bangladesh.”

Squally winds speed reaching 45 to 55 kmph gusting to 65 kmph would continue along and off North Andhra Pradesh Coast during next 6 hours . Winds would increase in intensity thereafter with gale wind speed reaching 100 -150 kmph from forenoon of to-day i.e., 12th October 2013 and 210-220 kmph gusting to 235 kmph along and off coastal districts of North Coastal Andhra Pradesh at the time of land fall.

State of sea along and off North Coastal Andhra Pradesh will be rough to very rough and would become gradually phenomenal on 12th October 2013.

Storm surge with height 3.0 – 3.5 meters above astronomical tide would inundate low lying areas of Srikakulam district during landfall.

Extensive damage to kutcha houses, some damage to old buildings, large scale disruption of power and communication lines, minor disruption of rail and road traffic, uprooting of trees, flooding of escape routes with extensive damage to Agricultural crops.


Years ago I attended a hurricane seminar featuring then director of the National Hurricane Center, Dr. Bob Sheets. He talked about these cyclones which hit the Indian subcontinent and surrounding areas. The results are often tragic.

The US is a rich country. When there are warnings it’s possible to move out of harm’s way. In poor countries that mobility doesn’t exist, nor do many well constructed shelters.

Dr. Sheets talked about some communities building berms, artificial hills, not as protection from the wind but refuge from flooding. It’s a low tech solution with a decent payoff, but people remain exposed.

It will take a few days for the real impact of Phailin to reach the outside world. “Fog of war” conditions always follow a storm of this magnitude. I fear what we’ll find.