Millions in Northwest India face tropical cyclone threat

A month after powerful Tropical Cyclone Fani slammed into India’s northeastern coastline, the country faces the threat of another strong storm, this time on its west coast.

Tropical Cyclone Vayu, which formed Monday, strengthened on Tuesday into a hurricane-strength tropical cyclone (meaning winds in excess of 120 kph, or 75 mph) in the Arabian Sea.

The storm is expected to strengthen as it moves north over the next 36 hours and could become the strongest to strike northwestern India in decades.

The storm will pass about 200 km (125 miles) west of Mumbai on Wednesday before making landfall in Gujarat on Thursday.

As of late Tuesday, the forecast from the Joint Typhoon Warning Center calls for a landfall intensity of 175 kilometers per hour (110 mph), which would make it equal to a borderline Category 2 to 3 hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean.

Strongest Cyclone in 20 years

Powerful tropical cyclones rarely make it this far north in the Arabian Sea, and Gujarat state has not had a hurricane-strength storm make landfall in 20 years.

If the forecast for Tropical Cyclone Vayu verifies, the storm would be the strongest to strike the region since 1998, when a tropical cyclone packing winds of 195 kph (120 mph) killed around 10,000 people.

With that storm in mind, India’s military and government were deploying personnel from the National Disaster Response Force to the region on Tuesday.

Fisherman were being warned about the rough seas ahead of the storm’s arrival along with coastal residents preparing for a storm surge of up to 2 meters, which could inundate parts of the low-lying coast of the Kutch district in Gujarat.

India’s Meteorological Department is also warning of the potential for very heavy rainfall (over 200 mm or 8 inches) along with wind gusts over 135 kph along the Gujarat coast.

Second cyclone this year

This is the second major tropical cyclone threat of the year for India, which faced Fani in early May.

Fani, which struck near the city of Puri in Odisha state, had winds of 240 kilometers per hour (150 mph), making it equivalent to a Category 4 hurricane.

The storm killed several dozen people, mainly from fallen trees and collapsed walls, but the death toll was kept relatively low thanks to the evacuation of more than 1 million people in Odisha.