As the U.S. east coast prepares to mark the one year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, the east coast of India is bracing for what is rapidly becoming a potentially catastrophic cyclone.
Meteorologists monitoring Cyclone Phailin in the Bay of Bengal have recorded a alarming recent increase in the storm’s intensity over the course of the day. The cyclone’s maximum sustained wind speeds have doubled to a terrifying 160 mph, easily upgrading the storm to a Category 5 Hurricane. In addition to being powerful, Phailin is massive, similar in size to hurricane Katrina — approximately half the size of India.
A category 4 hurricane that formed in the Bay of Bengal in 1999 battered the Indian state of Odisha for over 30 hours and killed 15,000 people.
The Indian government has begun evacuating low-lying areas in two states and has advised farmers to harvest whatever they can salvage from their fields before the cyclone sweeps in. The army, navy, and air force have been placed on standby.
While landfall anywhere will be devastating, if the storm wanders east, it could strike land in extremely low-lying and densely-populated Bangladesh where the storm surge and flooding would be a humanitarian crisis.
According to Wunderground meteorologist Jeff Masters, twenty-six of the thirty-five deadliest tropical cyclones have been Bay of Bengal storms, and over the past two hundred years, 42 percent of deaths caused by cyclones have been in Bangladesh, 27 percent were in India.
Current estimates predict that Phailin will make landfall on Saturday night near Brhmapur, India.