Cyclone Amphan Live Updates: Hours Before Landfall, Millions Brace in Bangladesh and India

More than 3 million are heading to shelters during a pandemic.

Cyclone Amphan, now the equivalent of a category 3 hurricane, is predicted to make landfall in India and Bangladesh on Wednesday around 4 p.m. local time with a maximum sustained wind speed of 77 miles per hour.

The intensity of the storm has decreased, officials said, but the cyclone still posed a threat to coastal regions in India and Bangladesh.

“We are expecting large-scale damage,” said M. Mohapatra, an official at the India Meteorological Department. More than three million people in India and Bangladesh are being evacuated to emergency cyclone shelters. Still, some of the shelters are only half full, because of concerns about social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Indian Meteorologists said the storm would first hit the ecologically fragile Sundarbans region, between the Indian state of West Bengal and Bangladesh’s Hatiya Islands. The region is home to many rare animals, including Bengal tigers.

The storm is one of the most dangerous super cyclones to hit India in decades, since a cyclone in 1999 killed more than 9,000 people. That storm packed winds of more than 170 miles per hour, devastating many states along India’s coast.

The cyclone was steadily moving up the Bay of Bengal, traveling around 11 miles per hour, bringing heavy rains and big waves.

Climate change is breeding more storms like Amphan.

Cyclone Amphan swept over the Bay of Bengal on Monday as the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the region. But by Tuesday a phenomenon called vertical wind shear — the shifting of winds with altitude — had disrupted the storm’s rotational structure, weakening it.

Amphan initially grew powerful because the waters it passed over were exceedingly warm, as high as 88 degrees in parts of the Indian Ocean. Warmer water provides more of the energy that fuels such rotating storms.

As a result of climate change, ocean temperatures are rising, but other factors, including natural variability, can play a role. While it is not possible to say whether any one specific storm such as Amphan was made more powerful by climate change, scientists have long expected that tropical storms like it would increase in strength as the world warms.

That expectation was based on the laws of physics and computer climate models and not on studies of actual storms. But earlier this week, researchers in the United States with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, using observational data, reported that the likelihood of these kinds of cyclonic storms developing into the equivalent of Category 3 storms had increased by about 8 percent per decade since the late 1970s.

What makes a storm a hurricane, a typhoon or a cyclone? It comes down to location. They all refer to tropical cyclones — low-pressure circular storm systems with winds greater than 74 miles per hour that form over warm waters — but different terms are used in different parts of the world.

The word hurricane is used for tropical cyclones that form in the North Atlantic, northeastern Pacific, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Typhoons are storms that develop in the northwestern Pacific and usually threaten Asia.

The international date line serves as the Pacific Ocean’s dividing marker, so when a hurricane crosses over it from east to west, it becomes a typhoon instead, and vice versa.

The same storms in the Southern Hemisphere are easier to keep straight. The storm Amphan is moving over the Bay of Bengal, so that makes it simply a cyclone — the same for storms over the Arabian Sea, which is also in the northern Indian Ocean. In the southern Indian Ocean and South Pacific, they are “tropical cyclones” or “severe tropical cyclones.”

All of these cyclonic storms act to regulate the overall climate, moving heat energy from the tropics toward the poles.

Reporting was contributed by Jeffrey Gettleman, Sameer Yasir, Kai Schultz, Henry Fountain and Jennifer Jett.

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