It’s a strange night. The sky is an angry red. Muffled roars of thunder rumble from opaque corners. Rude, cold gusts of wind rake up shrouded Mango trees by surprise – leaving them to clutch on to their leaves. Dry leaves on the yard expectantly soar up in a spiral – only to drop limply back to earth. My curtains flail and doors rattle. The streets are completely devoid of life: as if in anticipation of Cyclone Mahasen as it toys with a forlorn city. As I research cyclones, Mahasen is gathering strength 1300 miles into the Bay of Bengal. We’ll probably meet in a day.
MY RUDIMENTARY UNDERSTANDING OF CYCLONES
Cyclones are massive storms that can grow to the size of Hungary or Iceland. Air speeds can reach up to 300 km/h. I’ve been inside a weak cyclone (Bijli) before and let me tell you the first gusts are enough to blow you over and the sleet of prickly rain, likely to blind you for some time. And don’t even get me started on how terrifyingly the sea howls to the wind.
You see, what happens is when hot air over the ocean rises up, it leaves a void. So cold air, the opportunist, quickly rushes down to fill the gap. But it, too, soon becomes heated and has to rise back up. A new, usurping rush of cold air comes in. And this goes on and on. Meanwhile, the hot air on top cools to make clouds. The whole system of clouds and wind spins and grows, because its constantly fed by the ocean’s heat and evaporating water. And lo and behold! We have a cyclone.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Cyclones – unlike their northern-hemisphere cousins, hurricanes – rotate anticlockwise. Typhoons, the equivalent of Jon Snow in the mighty storms family, do the same.
- Cyclones and hurricanes never form near the Equator. This is because, the rotation of the earth sends them off on a track that arcs away from the equator. (Read why)
- Cyclones were often given female names worldwide – till women’s groups protested in 1977. Most Bangladeshi storms still have female names.
- Super-sized cyclones occur in Jupiter, Saturn and other planets too. Some are twice as big as Earth!
What started as low-pressure is now churning harder – lifting up the ocean surface, clawing down the clouds into nature’s own blending machine. This turbulence is zeroing down on the ocean surface – slurping up water from the Bay of Bengal till the waters rise in a massive twister. As it approaches shallow, funnel-shaped bay waters, it could really weigh down upon the water surface (think: splattering a plate of water with your hand). Together with a rising continental shelf, the winds will wedge the water into a sheer wall …a storm surge.
Coastal areas and port-adjacent areas are on alert. But when has that stopped the impoverished fishermen from going into their own waters? When has that ever convinced the poor southern communities to evacuate? They’ve fought and won against worse. The (category-5) Sidr came and went. It left 10000 dead and millions, homeless. Mahasen, too, will come. And the next! But I so wish it died …collapsed upon itself like a proud tyrant! I so wish it did not thunder down on helpless people who have no brick walls or concrete roofs. Tonight, as Mahasen advances on the bay, I make this supplication.