Home / Lounge / Features /  Is pandemic-hit Mumbai ready for a cyclonic storm and the monsoon?

On 31 May, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) announced its forecast of a storm brewing near the Lakshadweep Islands in the Arabian Sea. A low-pressure area, it is expected to intensify into a depression by 1 June, and into a cyclonic storm by 2 June.

The storm is expected to make landfall on the western coast at a point between north Maharashtra and south Gujarat on the evening of 3 June, as a severe cyclonic storm. Other global forecasting systems, like the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), corroborate this view.

Vineet Kumar, who studies tropical cyclones at the Climate Research Lab at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology’s (IITM-Pune's) Centre for Climate Change Research, says the exact location of landfall will be clearer later on Monday. “Most of the models agree with the IMD, which says that this will be between north Maharashtra and south Gujarat coast, somewhere between Mumbai and Surat. As per the current scenario, it might be around Dahanu," he says. Dahanu is a little over 100km north of Mumbai. The latest IMD bulletin puts the point of landfall as between Harihareshwar (184km south of Mumbai) and Daman (177km north of Mumbai).

The low-pressure system is expected to intensify over the next 36 hours, riding on conducive ocean temperatures. As Mint reported earlier with cyclone Amphan, both the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea have been warmer than normal over the past few months, the result of a marine heatwave. While temperatures over the Bay of Bengal prior to Amphan’s intensification were about 33-34 degrees Celsius, the temperature over the Arabian Sea is about 31 degrees Celsius, two degrees above normal. The IMD bulletin also says the storm will intensify under favourable environmental conditions like “high ocean heat content".

However, the cyclone is not expected to be stronger than a Category 1 storm, at best. The IMD forecasts winds of between 80-105kmph, with wind gusts of up to125kmph on the evening of 3 June. “It’s highly unlikely to be stronger because the system is very close to land. Right now it’s a depression and it will make landfall around Wednesday-Thursday. It does not have a lot of time to intensify," says Kumar.

This might still be enough to give Mumbai sleepless nights, especially with the monsoon set to reach the city around 10 June. Is Mumbai prepared for the double whammy of a cyclonic storm and the monsoon? Especially with covid-19 raging in the city?

Anjal Prakash is research director and adjunct associate professor, Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. He has studied urban resilience in the face of climate change and was a lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) 6th Assessment Report. He believes Mumbai hasn’t learnt its lessons from repeated annual flooding events. “Mumbai’s mangroves have been systematically destroyed," he says. City planning remains haphazard due to a strong politician-builder nexus. Nor has the city utilized available climate information.

“Flood forecasting systems have improved quite a lot. They are very reliable. We can actually go and do advance planning for as far as 15-20 days," he says. “(But) earlier, we used to hear of Mumbai floods once every few years. Now it is happening every year. The frequency has increased, the severity has increased. We are calling this the new normal," he adds. Drainage systems, however, are still largely from the British era, sometimes drainage maps aren’t available with municipalities, and newer drainage systems aren’t robust enough.

And then there’s covid-19. “This year the government has to be really prepared. Most of the slums are in low-lying areas. Imagine if those areas get flooded, when people have already been warned to stay inside. This is unthinkable," says Prakash.

Nor is it a matter of resources, because a city like Mumbai is wealthy enough to plan for resilience. The Brihanmumbai municipal corporation (BMC) has a 2020-21 budget of Rs33,441 crore. Last year’s budget was over Rs30,000 crore. According to the February budget, Rs14,637.76 crore has been set aside for improving the city’s infrastructure. And yet, last monsoon, both July and September saw record flooding in the city.

Over the next couple of weeks, even a small cyclonic storm, followed by the monsoon, is going to severely test Mumbai.

Bibek Bhattacharya
Bibek is the Deputy Editor of Mint Lounge. He writes on a variety of subjects, including climate change, science and culture. He is also occasionally hosts the Mint Climate Tracker podcast.
Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
More Less
Recommended For You
Get alerts on WhatsApp
Set Preferences My ReadsWatchlistFeedbackRedeem a Gift CardLogout