Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm Tauktae turns deadly for COVID-ravaged India

·6 min read

The first Arabian Sea cyclonic storm of 2021 formed on Saturday morning, local time, and AccuWeather forecasters warn it will continue to bring detrimental impacts to India, which is currently engulfed in the world's largest COVID-19 outbreak.

Tauktae formed west of India early Saturday morning, local time. By Sunday morning, Tauktae strengthened into a very severe cyclonic storm and was the equivalent of a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. It then strengthened further into an extremely severe cyclonic storm, and, as of Monday afternoon, local time, Tauktae is the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane in the Atlantic and East Pacific Ocean basins.

Due to the expected heavy rain, flooding, strong winds and storm surge, Tauktae will be a 3 on the AccuWeather RealImpact™ Scale for Tropical Cyclones.

Tauktae will continue to unleash flooding rainfall and damaging winds across portions of western and northern India through much of the upcoming week. Depending on the track of the storm, parts of Pakistan could also feel impacts.

Before Tauktae was even classified as a very severe cyclonic storm, the strengthening storm dumped a "large excess" of rainfall across portions of the Indian states of Kerala and Karnataka on Saturday, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD). Some locations received as much as 150 mm (6 inches) of rain in just 24 hours.

In Karnataka, at least four people lost their lives on Saturday due to flooding that resulted from the cyclone's rains. Nearly 300 people have fled to relief camps in the wake of Saturday's rainfall and subsequent flooding, the Karnataka State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) confirmed. The Indian Air Force reported around 9 a.m. local time that an airlift from Kolkata to Ahmedabad was under progress.

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The timing of the storm amid the COVID-19 outbreak, even if it doesn't make a direct strike, is not good news for India.

In the past month, India has reported more than 10 million new COVID-19 cases and more than 87,000 fatalities. It has pulled into the second spot globally behind the United States with a pandemic total of more than 23.7 million cases. The western state of Maharashtra has reported more than 5.2 million of those cases, which is more than any other state or province worldwide. Western Maharashtra is one area that can receive heavy rain from the cyclone.

This satellite loop shows Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm Tauktae off the coast of western India on Monday afternoon, local time. CIRA/RAMMB

Amid the worsening health crisis, India has been regularly setting daily records of more than 400,000 cases that have also turned into global records. The current world record of 414,188 daily cases was set in the country on May 6, 2021. The record high for daily deaths in the country was 4,205 on May 11. India's death toll since the pandemic began is more than 258,000, which is third behind Brazil (more than 430,000) and the U.S. (more than 584,000), according to Johns Hopkins University.

Many of the new cases have been brought on by a variant of the virus, which is said to be highly contagious. The World Health Organization recently labeled this mutation as a variant of concern and said it poses a global health risk, CNBC reported. Mass gatherings and religious festivals that drew millions of people in recent weeks have been cited as a key factor in the spread.

So far this year, the northern Indian Ocean has been very quiet, aside from a deep depression that formed in the Andaman Sea, near Myanmar and Thailand, in early April.

The development of Tauktae has put an end to this quiet streak in the northern Indian Ocean. Tauktae began as a low pressure area off the coast of southwestern India at midweek and became a deep depression on Friday evening, before strengthening further to a very severe cyclonic storm, according to India's Meteorological Department.

Tauktae can bring an area of 100-200 mm (4-8 inches) of rain to these areas leading to the threat for flooding, mudslides and washed-out roads. An AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 600 mm (24 inches) is possible in the heaviest and most persistent rain bands. For wind speeds, an AccuWeather Local StormMax™ of 190 km/h (120 mph) is possible.

As the storm was a deep depression strengthening off the coast of Kerala on Friday, large waves battered the coastline causing water to rush onshore with a several-foot storm surge.

On Saturday, three fishermen had to be rescued by the Indian Coast Guard after their boat became marooned in the tumultuous sea off the coast of Kannur, Kerala, reported IANS.

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"Tauktae is expected to make landfall over southern Gujarat late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, local time," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Alan Reppert.

A landfall in northwestern India or Pakistan could lead to damaging wind, flash flooding and an inundating coastal storm surge.

Much of southern and western Gujarat could see these impacts resulting in the loss of power and water for several days or longer.

In preparation for the storm, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai says it will move 580 coronavirus patients to other hospitals, ANI reported.

Regardless of the track, Tauktae will stir up rough surf along the coasts of western India and Pakistan as the winds around the storm increase.

The season for tropical activity has no bounds in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, according to AccuWeather Lead International Forecaster Jason Nicholls, but it does have two peaks.

"The first of the two peaks in the calendar year is during the pre-monsoon period of April to June, and the second is after the monsoon, from September to December," Nicholls explained.

As May progresses, the number of tropical systems across the globe, statistically, is likely to increase.

Early last week, Tropical Storm Andres formed in the East Pacific Ocean basin. This formation came prior to the official start of the season and also put Andres in the record books as it became the earliest named preseason storm in the basin.

If the cyclone does track to the north and into northwestern India, moisture from the cyclone could bring a dose of heavy rain across western Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and eastern Pakistan during the middle and end of this week.

Residents should continue to monitor the situation and heed local warnings. With the ongoing COVID-19 surge, it may take extra time to prepare for the storm and make any needed precautions.

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