Cyclone Vayu poised to hit India as year's second major storm

The western state of Gujarat is likely to be hit hard by its first cyclone in more than 20 years.

    Cyclone Vayu is strengthening in the Arabian Sea and heading towards western India [Al Jazeera]
    Cyclone Vayu is strengthening in the Arabian Sea and heading towards western India [Al Jazeera]

    Indian authorities are bracing for a severe cyclone strengthening in the Arabian Sea that's set to make landfall in the western state of Gujarat as India's second major storm of the season.

    The India Meteorological Department said on Wednesday that Cyclone Vayu was due to hit the Gujarat coast early on Thursday with winds gusting up to 170km an hour.

    Gujarat's chief minister Vijay Rupani requested on social media that tourists leave coastal areas by Wednesday afternoon. Authorities said more than a quarter of a million people living in low-lying areas would be evacuated.

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    By contrast, more than a million people were evacuated ahead of Cyclone Fani, which hit India's eastern coast on the Bay of Bengal in May, killing 34 people.

    Gujarat is home to large refineries and sea ports that lie near the storm’s path, officials said.

    India's Sikka Ports and Terminals Ltd, which handles crude oil and refined products for Reliance Industries Ltd, closed berthing of vessels at its western Indian port on Wednesday due to a cyclone warning, according to a port notice and a shipping industry source.

    India's biggest oil refinery, owned by Reliance Industries, is also based in Gujarat. A Reliance executive on Tuesday said the cyclone is expected to weaken by the time it reaches the Jamnagar-based refinery.

    Sikka ports also handle oil and refined products cargo for Bharat Oman Refineries Ltd, a subsidiary of Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd.

    "Berthing operation have been stopped. Most of the vessels have already been moved out as a safety precaution," a shipping industry source told Reuters news agency. The port would be closed for at least one or two days, the source said.

    A spokesperson for Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd on Tuesday said it was preparing to move employees at two ports it runs in the state to safer areas.

    "Our Mundra and Tuna ports will be closest to the path. The disaster management plan has been put into action and all the necessary precautions are being put in place including evacuation of staff if the need arises," the spokesman said.

    Gujarat braces for storm

    The warm waters of the Arabian Sea will continue to allow Vayu to gradually strengthen before making possible landfall, potentially making the cyclone the equivalent strength of a Category 2 hurricane.

    The India Meteorological Department is forecasting a 1-1.5-metre storm surge, on top of normal astrological tides, for coastal Maharashtra and Gujarat states.

    Most of the heavy rain will remain off shore, but as the storm nears Gujarat, rain showers are likely to come onshore across the Kathiawar peninsula, a relatively mountainous area where flash flooding and mudslides could occur.

    Gujarat is not immune to tropical cyclones, but a direct landfall of this strength or greater has not happened since 1998.

    In June of that year, a cyclone with winds of 195km an hour came ashore with a storm surge of 4.9 metres and was responsible for more than 10,000 deaths because of severe flooding.

    One unusual knock-on effect from the approaching storm will be the increasing temperatures for southeastern Pakistan.

    The counter-clockwise circulation will mean an easterly flow over the region, allowing much hotter and drier air to move over the area. Temperatures for Karachi could reach as high as 40C in coming days, 11 degrees above its normal average.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies