Cyclone Fani strengthens off the east coast of India

Tropical system threatens flooding across northwestern parts of the Bay of Bengal.

    Clouds loom ahead of cyclone Fani in Visakhapatnam, India [Reuters]
    Clouds loom ahead of cyclone Fani in Visakhapatnam, India [Reuters]

    India has deployed emergency personnel and ordered the navy on standby as it braced for an extremely severe cyclonic storm barrelling towards the eastern coast.

    Cyclone Fani has become the first tropical cyclone of the year to develop in the Northern Indian Ocean.

    On Wednesday, it was located to the northeast of Chennai, India, with winds of 195 kilometres per hour and gusts nearer 240km/h.

    This makes it equivalent to a category three Atlantic hurricane and it is expected to strengthen further in the warm waters of the Bay of Bengal. Waters across the cyclone's path are between 30 to 31 degrees Celsius, which is about a degree above average for the time of year.

    Fani is forecast to make landfall in Odisha on Friday, with winds of around 170km/h gusting to 200km/h. This would classify it as an extremely dangerous category two system.

    It will then gradually weaken as it moves very close to or even right over Kolkata and then onto Bangladesh. Warnings have been issued to cover the usual hazards of destructive winds and life-threatening floods due to torrential rain and storm surge.

    Rainfall amounts are likely to be around 250 to 400mm. Some isolated locations could see more rain, bringing an increased risk of mudslides.

    Given the storm's forecast track, there is the risk of significant storm surge flooding anywhere from West Bengal to the Ganges Delta, which includes Kolkata, a city of about 14 million people.

    Cyclone Fani has strengthened rapidly and is the strongest storm to move through the Bay of Bengal this early in the year since Tropical Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Nargis went on to cause widespread devastation in Myanmar resulting in more than 100,000 deaths across the country.

    The last major storm to hit Odisha was Cyclone Phailin, which struck as a category four storm in 2013, killing 45 and causing more than a half a billion dollars in damage.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News