Nisarga, the first severe cyclone to impact Mumbai in more than 60 years, largely spared India’s financial capital on Wednesday as the severe cyclonic storm weakened after its landfall south of the city, claiming no major damages or loss of life in the region.
The cyclone crossed the coast near Alibag in Raigad district with wind speeds of up to 120km per hour at 12.30pm, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said. Experts said Mumbai remained largely unaffected as the landfall, initially expected to be 16km away in Alibag, deviated 75km from the coastal resort town.
Two people diedas the storm uprooted trees in neighbouring districts, but no major damages were reported as workers began clearing debris on Wednesday night. The deep depression that formed over the Arabian Sea earlier this week turned into a severe cyclonic storm and reached the coastline of Maharashtra on Wednesday.
“It made landfall south of Alibag. The cyclone’s eye diameter was 80km and the eye crossed south of Alibag in Raigad but rest of it crossed neighbouring districts,” said IMD director general M Mohapatra. He added that while the forecast on the cyclone track was accurate, the effect on Mumbai was diminished as the landfall happened at least 75km south of Alibag, in Diveagar.
IMD’s prediction of extremely heavy rainfall was not reported in several areas of Mumbai. The city, however, recorded a gale wind speed of 72kmph at its southern tip, Colaba, quelling fears that the administrative and health care resources, already stretched on account of its coronavirus disease (Covid-19) caseload, would not be able to cope with a natural disaster.
Private forecaster Skymet Weather said it was a close shave for the city, which has so far recorded about 43,000 Covid-19 cases and is making attempts at keeping its health care system from being overrun. “Our observation is that the impact on Mumbai was less because the landfall location was shifted somewhat south of Alibag. There was only light to moderate rains in Mumbai during and immediately after landfall,” said Mahesh Palawat, vice president, climate and meteorology at Skymet Weather.
Visuals of lacerating rain, swaying trees and waves crashing against tetrapod barriers that line the Konkan coast beamed on television screens as people stayed indoors on the advice of the state government, even as teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the State Disaster Response Force evacuated at least 160,000 people over Tuesday and Wednesday morning from the coastal districts of Maharashtra — particularly Raigad and Palghar — as well as Navsari, Valsad and Surat in Gujarat.
Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and his deputy Ajit Pawar spoke to district collectors of all seven districts on alert in Maharashtra, and directed the administration to assess the losses to citizens.
Kishorraje Nimbalkar, secretary, relief and rehabilitation said: “The alert continues till tomorrow [Thursday] morning in seven districts. There are huge losses of properties reported in Raigad district, while in other districts it was comparatively less. There is no cyclone-related loss of life reported in the state. The assessment of the losses will begin tomorrow.”
As it passed over the coastline, Nisarga spanned 500km, as captured by radar and encompassed Mumbai and Thane districts, IMD stated. Its eye (the region of calm at the centre of a cyclonic storm) was about 80km in diameter — by all measures, it was every bit the severe cyclonic storm that the states were bracing for. However, cyclones tend to lose speed the more they travel inland, and by Wednesday night, Nisarga made its way towards Pune and was headed in the north-east direction towards Madhya Pradesh at a speed of 60-70kmph.
The cyclone made landfall between Srivardhan and Murud to the south of Alibag, Raigad district collector Nidhi Choudhari said. Though the cyclone completed landfall between 12.30 and 2.30pm, its intensity lasted for another hour afterwards. Alibag received 84.3mm of rain between 8.30am and 5.30pm on Wednesday, while Ratnagiri district, south of the cyclone’s landfall site, recorded 45mm in the same time period, according to data provided by the district administration.
“The entire district is cyclone-hit,” Choudhari said, as she assessed the extent of damage with the NDRF team on Wednesday evening. “It struck us exactly at Diveagar, and later moved towards Alibag and Pen tehsils. The impact was felt as far as Margaon, Khopoli and Karjat (inland) where tree and electric lines were badly damaged.” Choudhari estimated at least 10,000 trees were affected — 15 in her own office and residence, she said.
A 58-year-old man died in Alibag’s Umte village when an electricity pole fell on him, and four people were injured in Ratnagiri district. Another death was reported from Raigad district, a 10-year-old who was killed due to a tree fall.
The cyclone uprooted a large number of trees. Power supply was affected in most coastal districts and tenements with missing tin roofs, blown away by the high speed winds, was a common sight.
In anticipation of flooding, on account of a predicted storm surge, the Birhanmumbai Municipal Corporation evacuated close to 20,000 people from low-lying areas in the metropolitan region, including Colaba, Worli Koliwada, Gorai and other western suburbs. This was to be the second severe cyclonic storm after 1961 to impact Mumbai in its path. However, as of Wednesday night, no major loss to life and property reported.
The Chhattrapati Shivaji International airport, which shut operations for three hours during the day, resumed flights at 6pm.
“This could have been very bad. Winds were very strong but rainfall was moderate, which probably saved Mumbai. We do not expect any major rains anymore,” Mumbai’s deputy director general of meteorology KS Hosalikar said. “We may withdraw the orange alert for Mumbai and only keep a yellow alert,” he added.
Sunita Devi, incharge of cyclone department at IMD, said: “Unlike Amphan, this cyclone didn’t intensify rapidly while in the ocean but intensified very quickly when it was only 250km from the Maharashtra coast as winds picked by 20 to 40kmph early morning on Wednesday and made landfall as a severe cyclonic storm.”
Climate scientist at Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Mathew Roxy Koll, said: “Intensification from a tropical cyclone to a Category 1 cyclone in case of Nisarga happened in about 12 hours near the coast.” His team said that this was the first time after 1998 that a severe cyclonic storm crossed the west coast. The 1998 cyclone made landfall in Gujarat’s Kandla and killed thousands of people but didn’t impact Mumbai.
It is rare for a cyclone to make landfall in or near Mumbai or even on the Maharashtra coast. The storms that form during monsoon onset over Arabian Sea usually move towards Oman. Cyclone Phyan, of a much lower intensity, last impacted these districts in 2009 and even Mumbai recorded extremely heavy rainfall. The upper-level winds steered Nisarga towards the Maharashtra coast. This is the first pre-monsoon severe cyclone to have made an impact on Mumbai since 1961.
Storm surge during the three-hour cyclone period ranged between 1-2m for the Konkan coast. The maximum storm surge for Raigad district was 2m from Alibag to Diveagar, and 0-0.8m for Ratnagiri, Mumbai and Thane.
Storm surge warnings — shoreward movement of water above astronomical tide height under the action of wind stress — indicate the extent of inundation to expect. A storm surge of 0.5m to 1.3m over coastal Alibag may result in flooding up to 1.4km of a low-lying area.