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Cyclone forecasting for the Indian coast improved


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A partnership among scientists and the governments of the United States and India has made significant progress in improving the safety of people vulnerable to cyclones along the Indian coast since a devastating supercyclone there in 1999 claimed 10,000 lives, a Purdue University researcher says.

Dev Niyogi, professor of agronomy and earth, atmospheric and planetary science, noted that while the Orissa supercyclone that year made landfall in the state now known as Odisha on the Bay of Bengal coast and killed that many people, the death toll from a similar storm in the same area in 2013 - very severe cyclonic storm Phailin - was 39.

"The storm in 1999 was a pretty massive disaster," said Niyogi, who is also Indiana state climatologist. "Phailin, in 2013, was roughly the same strength and took about the same track, and it had roughly the same intensity, yet this time the number of deaths was many times smaller. When we improve science, when we improve models, it impacts the ability for officials to make life-or-death decisions and implement effective disaster and communication plans. This is the result of science and action."

In 2000, the U.S. and Indian governments developed the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum, whose purpose is to catalyze collaborations in science, technology, engineering and biomedical research through interactions involving government, academia and industry. Niyogi and collaborators from the Indian Institute of Technology Bhubaneswar, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Indian National Institute of Technology Rourkela and the India Meteorological Department compared the storms in the December issues of the journal Earth Interactions.

Significant improvement in storm forecasting models was key to those results. Whereas storm watchers in 1999 were guessing at a 300-kilometer range of where the Orissa cyclone would make landfall, that number was cut in half by 2013's models. Along with more certainty about the storm's path came better information about the strength of the cyclone and the potential for damage and death.

 "The ability to communicate accurate forecasts improved the credibility of the information with Phailin," Niyogi said. "The confidence that the media have in the output of the model helps them communicate with people in real time."

After the Orissa cyclone, government agencies in India worked with U.S. partners to develop new methods for disseminating warnings to the public. Besides the advent of social media, which helped spread information quickly, the India Meteorological Department implemented a broad-based strategy for keeping the coastal population informed, including updates on the Web and through texts, email, telephone, telefax, television and radio.

The Indian government also spent years planning and building infrastructure and action plans for a storm, including evacuation protocols, identifying safe buildings for evacuees and developing community-based volunteer teams to assist with the process.

"The government of India did a remarkable job using the information at hand to develop a disaster-response plan," Niyogi said.

Niyogi says the takeaway from the storms' comparison is that a well-developed partnership between scientists and government, as well as international partnerships, can lead to more robust and effective plans for dealing with storms and other natural disasters. He said this should be a model to emulate.

"Our problems are global in nature, and our solutions must be global in nature," Niyogi said.

The partnership will continue to improve forecasting models and evaluate disaster plans for storms. The Hurricane Forecast Improvement Program, Indian National Center for Ocean Information Services, the National Science Foundation, the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences and the Department of Science and Technology funded the research. 

Writer: Brian Wallheimer, 765-532-0233, 

Source: Dev Niyogi, 765-496-2926,


A Great Escape" Super Sapphire–Phailin" Tropical Cyclone: A Case of Improved Weather Forecast and Societal Response for Disaster 

U. C. Mohanty,* Krishna K. Osuri,*,+,# Vijay Tallapragada,@ Frank D. Marks,+ Sujata Pattanayak,* M.Mohapatra,& L. S. Rathore,& S. G. Gopalakrishnan,+ and Dev Niyogi**,++

* School of Earth Ocean and Climate Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India

+ Hurricane Research Division, NOAA/AOML, Miami, Florida

# Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, National Institute of Technology Rourkela, Odisha, India @ Environmental Modeling Center, NOAA/NCEP, College Park, Maryland & India Meteorological Department, New Delhi, India

** Department of Agronomy, and Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 

The very severe cyclonic storm (VSCS) "Phailin (2013)" was the strongest cyclone that hit the eastern coast of the India Odisha state since the supercyclone of 1999. But the same story of casualties was not repeated as that of 1999 where approximately 10,000 fatalities were reported. In the case of Phailin, a record 1 million people were evacuated across 18,000 villages in both the Odisha and Andhra Pradesh states to coastal shelters following the improved operational forecast guidance that benefited from highly skillful and accurate numerical model guidance for the movement, intensity, rainfall, and storm surge. Thus, the property damage and death toll were minimized through the proactive involvement of three-tier disaster management agencies at central, state, and district levels. 

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