The landfall of Cyclone Nivar began around 10:30 pm, according to India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) latest weather bulletin on Wednesday night. The wind speed is expected to be between 120 and 130 kmph, gusting upto 145 kmph when the cyclone will make landfall, the IMD said in its bulletin at 9:30 pm. It further said that the very severe cyclonic storm lay 50 km east-northeast of Cuddalore, 40 km east-southeast of Puducherry and 120 km south of Chennai.
Earlier in the day, thousands of families were evacuated across Chennai and coastal districts of Tamil Nadu on Wednesday even as torrential rains, strong winds and high tides continued to batter the state. “As many as 1,21,152 people have been evacuated across the state including Cuddalore, Villupuram, Nagapattinam, Ariyalur, Perambalur,” said Phanindra Reddy, principal secretary and commissioner, state’s disaster management and mitigation department.
Life came to a standstill as electricity supply was interrupted in several parts of Chennai and other districts as hundreds of trees and electricity poles were uprooted. Buses and cars were seen stranded on roads and subways, forcing commuters to wade through knee-deep water. Several homes in low lying areas were also flooded with water. “People have been advised to not come out until district authorities announce that it is safe,” said Reddy.
The landfall is expected between Karaikal and Mamallapuram around Puducherry during midnight and early hours of November 26 with a wind speed of 12-130 kmph gusting to 145 kmph. “Even after landfall, the system is likely to maintain its cyclone intensity for about six-hours and weaken gradually,” the weather office said.
Airport operations (domestic and international flights) at the Chennai airport were suspended from 7pm on November 25 to 7am on November 26. As of 8pm, 2,707 people including 525 children in relief camps in Chennai. All major arterial roads in Chennai have been closed until further. Around 465 government ambulances have been stationed in seven coastal districts across the state.
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On Tuesday, IMD said that Nivar would make landfall as a very severe cyclonic storm in the evening hours but on Wednesday morning IMD’s bulletin said landfall was expected in the evening. “A delay is seen in timing of the landfall owing to rather slow movement of the cyclone. But there is no change from the expected intensity of very severe cyclone, during the time of landfall. The slow movement realised has been due lighter steering winds in which the Cyclone is embedded as well as due to change in direction of movement, as had been predicted,” added Devi.
The cyclone warning issued by IMD on Wednesday evening was upgraded to “Red” category from “Orange” category owing to the damage and extremely heavy rainfall expected in the region associated with landfall. “A red warning in case of Cyclone represents the 4th stage of warning, which includes the post landfall outlook as well. In the post landfall outlook, we will include the likely movement and adverse weather likely in those districts, which might fall along the expected track of the system after landfall. This is usually issued nearly 12 hours prior to the expected landfall,” Devi explained.
Even after landfall, the system is likely to maintain its cyclone intensity for about 6 hours and then weaken gradually. Under its influence rainfall at most/many places with heavy to very heavy falls at a few places with extremely heavy falls (over 20 cm) likely to occur over Ranipet, Tiruvannamalai, Tirupattur, Vellore districts of Tamil Nadu and Chittoor, Kurnool, Prakasam; Cuddappa districts of Andhra Pradesh and adjoining southeast Telangana on November 26.
After 6pm, 5,000 cusecs of surplus water was released from Chembaramakkam reservoir into the Adyar river which is an increase from 1,000 cusecs released on Wednesday noon. “It will keep going up as the inflow goes up,” said Reddy. “We will release water in a controlled manner,” said chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami after he inspected the Chembarambakkam reservoir which is about 30km from Chennai in the adjoining Kancheepuram district. “Adyar river has the capacity to carry 60,000 cusecs. Government is taking all precautions.”
Braving the rains, civic workers, police personnel, NDRF and SDRF cleared water-logging, fallen trees and poles and evacuated families to safer locations. Armed forces are on standy-by with helicopters and ships ready for rescue operations. The previous cyclone to hit Tamil Nadu was Gaja (classified as a very severe cyclonic storm) in November 2018. It claimed 46 lives and left a trail of destruction leaving lakhs of people homeless. “This cyclone may not cause that amount of damage but it will bring a lot of rainfall,” said former IMD director Y E A Raj.
AIADMK and DMK leaders and workers also took part in relief work. Stalin wearing rain gear provided aid to families living in inundated areas such as Kolathur, Choolai and Villivakkam. BJP cancelled its Vetrivel Yatra (victorious spear march) due to the cyclone and joined in the relief work. Chief Minister Palaniswami announced a public holiday on Thursday across 16 districts in Tamil Nadu.
In Puducherry, where section 144 is imposed, 2,200 people have been shifted to 285 relief centres. “The next few hours are crucial. We hope there is no major casualty or damage to property,” said the union territory’s collector, T Arun.
Independent scientists said warming of oceans due to climate change was leading to more intense cyclones and dangerous storm surges. “Now we have a La Nina in the Pacific, that is cool conditions in the Pacific that makes the local environmental conditions favorable for cyclogenesis in the Bay of Bengal. During the last 40 years, six cyclones – of the severe cyclone category- hit the Tamil Nadu coast in November. Out of these six, five of them coincided with La Nina like conditions in the Pacific. So that means to some extent we were expecting a cyclone season in the Bay of Bengal during this time – and it is not a surprise,” Roxy Mathew Koll, Scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and co-author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Oceans and Cryosphere report said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The case of Cyclone Nivar is similar to that of Cyclone Ockhi in several ways. In November 2017, Cyclone Ockhi intensified rapidly from a moderate cyclone to a very-severe-cyclone in 24 hours, resulting in death of 844 in India and Sri Lanka. We found that unusually warm ocean temperatures favoured its evolution from a depression to cyclone in 9 hours and then to a very-severe-cyclone in 24 hours. The Bay of Bengal is part of the warm pool region, where the temperatures are generally about 28-29°C in November and occasionally exceeding 30°C. These high temperatures are generally conducive for cyclogenesis. On top of that the global warming element is there – this time the temperature anomalies are about 0.5-1°C and in some regions reaching 1.2°C, based on buoy and satellite estimates,” he added.