‘What’s in a Cyclone’s name?

Kamal Baruah

Though weather report is a bit technical, yet TV viewers were familiar the language of meteorologists from the analysis in the Doordarshan era but it often ponder us how reliable are weather forecasts? We failed to trust in many occasion whenever a news casting script saying “it’s rainy all day today, I’m afraid; there may be a thunderstorm in the afternoon” that brought laughter and joy into our day at football ground. Since our northeast is full of hills and vales, thereby the chances of some rain do not happen elsewhere. Now satellite images made it possible for accurate monsoon information. This year the southwest monsoon is anticipated to enter on time in Kerala’s coasts on June 1 despite Cyclone ‘Remal’.


With the first monsoon rain, humanity erupts in joy in Mumbai so does places especially from dry areas in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Met people could predict the weather by looking at the clouds. The coastal districts of Odisha witness years of suffering from tropical cyclone. Meanwhile the Hurricanes and Typhoons are other tropical Cyclones differentiated by their location. Hurricanes are formed over the North Atlantic and NE Pacific, Typhoons over NW Pacific and Northern Indian Ocean and Cyclones over South Pacific and Indian Ocean.


We have always wondered how a cyclone gets its name. From Amphan (sky in Thai) to Asani (wrath in Sinhalese), the first thing that strikes the minds of most is what these names mean (the name ‘Remal’ suggested by Oman meaning sand), whenever a cyclone hits.  Actually the practices of naming begin years ago to help in the quick identification of storms in warning messages. It the speed of a cyclone is more than 74 mph, then it becomes necessary to give it a special name.


The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the UN Economic and Social Commission for the Asia Pacific (ESCAP) have been naming cyclonic storms since 2000 only. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) names the cyclones developing over the north Indian Ocean, including the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea since Sep 2004. It also issues advisories to 12 other nations in the region from Bangladesh to the Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Yemen.


This writer had witnessed one such occasion before the naming of a cyclone had actually began from the Indian Ocean. It was during the November, 2009; an extremely severe cyclonic storm impacted across Tamil Nadu. The thunderstorm persisted over the Andaman Sea circulating over the Thailand and finally dissipated over the Arabian Sea through Tamil Nadu. A day prior of the fateful day of Nov 29, the dark and the dusty skies covered the Chennai city. People got scared and even afraid to stay home inside for fear of high wind rotating inwards at low barometric pressure and depression.


Residents reported a period of calm lasting about 45 minutes but the ruins crumbled to dust and the dust blew away with the wind resulting in human deaths and brought widespread rainfall. We were stuck in the mess for over three days without electricity and water. However heavy rainfall peaking at 450 mm and high winds peak intensity of 115 mph knocked down trees, paddy fields and damaging houses while flooding washed away buildings and inundated the large parts of the town by the sea.


We shook our head in disbelief aftermath of cyclone, when the Tambaram Aerodrome was inflicted massive damage. The crown of the ATC fell down in disbelief. The whole runway was covered by felling trees and grasses. On the other hand the cyclone was named arbitrarily after BOB 5 (Bay of Bengal) without systematically.


In the last year, another cyclone ‘Biparjoy’ (disaster in Bengali) arrived on 15 Jun 2023 that intense rainfall led to flooding in parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The recent cyclone resulted deaths and extensive damage in the Barak valley, yet people would be reminded a particular name ‘Remal’ despite devastation.


And I sing today with the lines of William Wordsworth from “After the storm”. There was a roaring in the wind all night; the rain came heavily and fell in floods; but now the sun is rising calm and bright; the birds are singing in the distant woods and the people would soon repair their small dwellings after the devastating cyclone.






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