How Odisha keeps cyclone damage at 'bay'

A cyclone-prone state, Odisha experiences at least one cyclone every year between the months of May-June and October-November.

Credit : Shubham Patil

Manisha Swain  | Berhampur, Odisha

Cyclone Yaas, the very severe cyclonic storm that is going to make landfall in coastal parts of Odisha on Wednesday morning, is the first cyclone Odisha is facing this year. While the increasing number and intensity of cyclonic storms in the Arabian Sea are catching India’s west coast and states like Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala by shock, cyclones are not new to the state of Odisha. A cyclone-prone state, Odisha experiences at least one cyclone every year between the months of May-June and October-November. While this gives the state its name ‘disaster capital of India’, it also makes the state the most prepared in the country to face the severity of cyclonic storms and minimise damage.

'Yaas' is likely to turn severe in the next 24 hours before it crosses the Odisha and West Bengal coasts on May 26 (Wednesday), as per the India Meteorological Department (IMD). As per the agency, it is likely to make landfall near Odisha’s Dhamra port. “Wind warnings for the most affected districts -- Kendrapada, Jagatsinghpur, Balasore and Bhadrak -- have been upgraded. The wind speed will be around 150-160 kmph, gusting up to 180 kmph during the landfall of Cyclone Yaas,” the IMD bulletin issued in this regard said.

As per local reports, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has committed 99 teams across Odisha, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Andaman and Nicobar Islands in wake of the cyclone’s impact. “The force has earmarked a total of 149 teams for undertaking evacuation and rescue operations, of which 99 will be deployed on the ground and the remaining 50 will be available at its various bases across the country for quick airlift, if required,” NDRF DG SN Pradhan said while speaking to the press on Monday.

Mass evacuation has already started in the districts of Kendrapada and Jagatsinghpur. In the district of Ganjam, Odisha the administration is preparing around 1,000 schools to shift people and Covid patients from the coastal areas, keeping in view the approaching cyclone. Police in the coastal areas have started creating awareness among the local fishermen from Goplapur to not go to the sea. They are using loudspeakers and visiting villages in order to create awareness.


Credit: Skymet Weather


Major cyclones in Odisha since 1999

The 1999 Super Cyclone (1999)

Cyclone Phailin (2013)

Cyclone Hudhud (2014)

Cyclone Titli (2018)

Cyclone Fani (2019)


Lessons from previous cyclones

Despite facing cyclones on a regular basis, the state of Odisha has proven itself efficient in disaster management and in decreasing the number of casualties. This was only possible due to the combined efforts of the state and its people. 

When the super cyclone occurred in 1999, an estimate of 10,000 people died due to the cyclone. Those deaths were a result due to the lack of technology, communication and efficient disaster management policies. But since then many things have changed and a more effective disaster management system has come into effect.

The time period between the super cyclone of 1999 and 2013’s Cyclone Phailin helped the State Government to develop a new management system that has two main features. Firstly, there was more interaction between the Centre and the state governments, the IMD and coastal communities. Secondly, this new system welcomed technological convergence which helped in ensuring efficient communication. Communication tools such as media, SMSs, helplines and hotlines, etc. were used to announce the crucial information to people. An effective response system was developed which resulted in the evacuation of 1.2 million people from 18 districts.


Cyclone Fani (2019) was one of the strongest cyclones to hit Odisha after Cyclone Phalin. But the damage was kept to the minimum.


Cyclone Fani (2019) was one of the strongest cyclones to hit Odisha after Cyclone Phalin. But the damage was kept to the minimum and it was only possible due to effective disaster management. A total of 64 people lost their lives during this cyclone. The number of deaths was expected to be much more than that, keeping the intensity of the cyclone in mind. The authorities were observing Fani even before it turned into a cyclone. It was closely observed when it was a deep depression. Meteorologists had accurately predicted how and when the cyclone will hit Odisha. 

The government of Odisha had released a five-page action plan many days before the cyclone was even formed. As soon as the cyclone showed its signs of nearing the coastline, messages were sent across using loudspeakers, alarms and mobiles which asked people to evacuate and go to the nearest shelter formed by the authorities. People were safely evacuated to the shelters one day prior to when the cyclone made its landfall. 

Being a cyclone-prone state, it is not only the duty of the government but also of the citizens to ensure minimal confusion and casualties during a cyclonic storm. The state has now more than 450 cyclone shelters where youths are trained in effective disaster management. They are skilled in rescue, first aid, search operations, etc. They work closely with the local authorities during times of cyclones. This effective management was appreciated by many countries. The UN agency for disaster reduction has commended the IMD for their pinpoint accuracy in locating Cyclone Fani’s every move.

Odisha is a part of a UN project that gives financial aid to states facing cyclonic storms. Odisha also gets financial aid from the World Bank to deal with cyclones. Odisha is a state which is considered one of the poorest states in India yet the disaster management system is skillfully designed to ensure minimum casualties. Odisha’s Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik has been commended several times for tackling the cyclones with a scientific and rational approach each time.



Why does Odisha face more cyclones?

As per reports, 27 out of 36 deadliest tropical cyclones in the world have been the storms formed in the Bay of Bengal and it has affected eastern India. There is a scientific reason as to why the Bay of Bengal is a hot spot for severe cyclones. Until recently, the wind patterns in the Arabian Sea helped the sea water to remain cooler which resulted in lesser cyclones. Whereas on the Eastern Coast, the flat topography, which is unable to detect the winds, allows the cyclone to move landwards resulting in severe cyclones on the eastern coast.

“Geographically, the landmass between Puri to Bhadrak in the map of Odisha juts out a little into the sea, making it vulnerable to any cyclonic activity in the Bay of Bengal,” says meteorologist Sarat Chandra Sahu, the retired Director of the India Meteorological Department’s Regional Meteorological Science Centre in Odisha’s capital Bhubaneswar said in a Times of India report.