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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 10/22/2010

Cyclone Giri explodes, socks Burma shore

By Jason Samenow

Will Giri be a repeat of catastrophic Nargis?

* Weekend Forecast | Richard may avoid U.S. | Bastardi knocks NOAA *

Infared satellite close-up into the well-defined eye of Tropical Cyclone Giri impacting Burma today. Source: Colorado State University.

A dangerous tropical cyclone over the northern Indian ocean, Giri, rapidly strengthened overnight before making landfall in Burma, also known as Myanmar, today (Friday). The storm comes two and a half years after Tropical Cyclone Nargis devastated that country, claiming more than 100,000 lives.

The Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center wrote this morning (Friday) that Giri's maximum sustained winds intensified by over 58 mph (50 knots) in 12 hours "indicative of explosive intensification."

As of 7 a.m. this morning - just hours prior to landfall - maximum sustained winds were 140 to 155 mph (125-135 knots) with gusts to 190 mph (165 knots) - equivalent to a high end Category 4 hurricane. The storm was merely at category 1 strength yesterday.

Nargis, probably the worst natural disaster in Burma's history, had weaker sustained winds of 130-135 mph at landfall. However, most of the casualties from Nargis arose from the storm surge which pushed a 13 foot wall of water across the Irrawaddy Delta region, drowning thousands.

As Giri is making landfall further north than Nargis, away from the vulnerable, low lying Irrawaddy Delta, the toll may not be as high.

AccuWeather reported: "The site of landfall was about 40 miles southeast of Sittwe (Akyab), or 250 miles northwest of Yangon, the Myanmar [Burma] capital. It includes many coastal islands, some of them low-lying with many tidal channels, but also some high ground."

Peter Webster, an atmospheric scientist at Georgia Tech and an expert on weather impacts in the region of the Bay of Bengal (India, Bangladesh, and Burma), told the Capital Weather Gang:

[The area impacted by] Giri has much more elevation than the Irrawaddy basin that extends inland for 10s of km at sea level. So the consequences of Giri will be different to those of Nargis. Instead of storm surges the main impacts will be from wind damage and rainfall flooding.
Infrared satellite image and projected path of Tropical Cyclone Giri, making landfall in Myanmar. Source: University of Wisconsin's Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies

Giri is also relatively small cyclone, "with a relatively narrow swath of hurricane-force winds" according to AccuWeather. Smaller storms typically produce somewhat lower storm surges than larger storms with the same intensity (in terms of wind).

On the other hand, unlike Nargis - where the storm's likely path and intensity was known to officials 36 hours in advance (even if this information was not acted upon), Giri strengthened more than predicted prior to landfall, increasing the possibility of a lack of preparedness.

Webster is particularly concerned about the rainfall potential from Giri.

"With onshore winds to the south of the storm center rainfall may be expected to be torrential in the higher elevations and local flooding can be expected," he said.

He likened Giri to Hurricane Mitch in 1998 which dropped enormous amounts of rainfall on central American countries, killing thousands.

While the publication Mizzima reports preparations were underway in Burma prior to the storm and that the state-run media had issued a "red alert" for the cyclone, it is an open question whether these preparations will have been adequate to avoid another disaster.

"I think that no matter where a tropical cyclone hits in the Bay of Bengal region, there will be devastation of one form or another," said Webster. "Simply, the population around the Bay is the densest on the planet."

Related links:

Inside the Burma cyclone

Bangladesh's Example for a Post-Nargis World

By Jason Samenow  | October 22, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  International Weather, Tropical Weather  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Tropical Storm Richard will likely avoid U.S.
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There are two reasons why the death toll from Bay of Bengal cyclones can be extremely large:

First, the elevation of much of the land in and near the Bay of Bengal is very low, under fifty feet above sea level. Storm surges from even modest tropical cyclones can move and have moved a considerable distance inland.

Secondly, housing in these regions is notoriously flimsy, and can be swept away by modest storm surges, modest to severe flooding or a combination of the two. In addition to the low-lying ground, the climate in the Bengal region is extremely humid and some cyclones striking the Indian sub-continent have been known to maintain tropical-storm force winds of 60 mph while far inland over parts of India.

In general, the Indian sub-continent cyclone season, like the Caribbean portion of the hurricane season, is at its worst early and late during the hurricane/typhoon season, in May/June and October/November. One interesting effect of the Bengal cyclone season...tigers of the Sonderban region along the Bay of Bengal are more notorious as man-eaters than in the rest of the tiger's sadly shrinking biological range. This might be due to the the fact that Sonderban tigers became accustomed to the taste of human flesh due to eating corpses washed ashore after Bengali cyclones. Few other large predators are habitual man-eaters, except salt-water crocodiles and aged, infirm big cats including tigers and other species. The salt-water crocodiles inhabit basically the same area of Southeast Asia and may also have grown accustomed to the taste of human flesh.

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