According to catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide, Cyclone Phailin made landfall in the Indian state of Odisha at around 9:15 p.m local time on Saturday. The massive storm, at half the size of India according to satellite imagery, is the strongest to affect the country since 1999’s Cyclone Orissa, which killed nearly 10,000 people. Phailin is accompanied by strong winds, heavy rains, and damaging waves. Extensive property and crop damage is expected in the affected region. With power and communications cut off, damage information has been scarce overnight. A more complete picture of the situation will begin to emerge on Sunday.
Very Severe Cyclonic Storm Phailin had maximum 10-minute sustained winds of 200-210 km/h at landfall, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), and struck the eastern coast of India near the town of Gopalpur, in the state of Odisha. According to the IMD, heavy to very heavy rainfall will affect an extensive area, from north coastal Andhra Pradesh to West Bengal. Heavy rainfall will extend several hundred kilometers inland, and extreme rainfall (more than 25 cm in 48 hours) is expected in some locations.
Phailin weakened slightly just before landfall due to interactions with land. Its forward speed prior to landfall, at 15 km/h, was slightly slower than expected, resulting in landfall a few hours later than previously forecast. Fortunately, the later arrival coincided with lower tide conditions, resulting in less severe surge heights than previously forecast. The Ganjam, Khurda, Puri and Jagatsinghpur districts of Odisha and Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh were on alert for coastal flooding. The IMD forecast surge heights of up to 2.2 m, but higher local measurements are expected.
The system is expected to continue to track north-northwest over land, weakening steadily. Maximum sustained winds just two hours after landfall dropped to 150 km/h. Phailin is expected to weaken to a deep depression by 11:30 IST on October 13.
Ahead of the storm, approximately half a million coastal residents in Odisha and more than 60,000 from Andhra Pradesh to the south were moved to higher ground. According to emergency management officials, this was one of the largest evacuation operations in India’s history. Authorities shut down power across Odisha as a precaution, and all shipping operations were halted.
According to AIR, extensive damage is expected to poorly constructed homes, including to mud and thatched roof structures common in the region. The torrential rainfall is also likely to result in inland flooding as rivers swell to dangerous levels.
According to AIR, the northeast Indian coast is extremely vulnerable to storm surge flooding, which was the primary cause of fatality during the 1999 cyclone. Over the past decades, the coast of Odisha has lost much of its natural barriers against storm surge as a result of development and damage during past storms.
Winds and heavy rains are also expected to damage the rice crop, which is nearing harvest. India is the world’s largest exporter of rice, and about 10% of the country’s rice crop is produced in Odisha.
AIR is gathering storm parameters at landfall to begin simulations using the AIR India cyclone model.