Hurricane Management
By Maxwell Pereira

With Hurricane Rita following on the heels of Hurricane Katrina - and with all the news you hear and see on television being nothing else but the destruction and damage the two wreaked in their path, about uprooted trees and broken homes, the resultant misery and trauma that goes with leaving home, evacuate to safer levels, of gasoline shortages and break-downs and of traffic hold ups - well…. I have been wondering whether at all I am holidaying in that land of promise and plenty, land of everything that's nice and perfect, the land in which nothing ever went wrong! What's become of that America and the American dream the world looked up to - has it soured, I am forced to ponder!

But then, its reality! American life today continues to be traumatised by hurricanes, and analysis of what has gone wrong and what has been done right, of damage assessments, insurance and reconstruction, of aid mobilisation, community involvement and disaster management.

Yes, disaster management! The most important area of activity, when calamities and disasters strike with the frequency they've been, in parts of USA. The quality of advance information, alerts and warnings, level of anticipation and assessment, mobilisation of resources and infrastructure - for evacuating whole cities even the likes of Houston, Texas. Which they did, in time, in the face of the advancing Hurricane Rita. A whole country proud of the fact that they faced Rita as best they could, having learnt from the scars of Katrina. The unpreparedness, the lack of adequate response of the former, never to be repeated.

That makes me think and compare. We in India patted our backs at our snobbish ability to refuse aid from foreign agencies/ countries - read here America… in the aftermath of the Tsunami. And someone somewhere dared compare New Orleans vs. Mumbai in the wake of the unprecedented floods faced by both almost simultaneously in diametrically different and opposite parts of the globe - to claim that we fared better! So with hurricanes so much a matter of concern, I want to know more. How has India faced its own hurricanes and floods?

Of floods we know - year after year, vast areas along India's major rivers flooded, areas submerged and inundated, with us wringing our hands in despair, pointing accusing fingers at government and its agencies: Oh why? …is it that we are unable to do something about containing these floods, of gearing up infrastructure to minimise the onslaught and its impact when it happens repeatedly every year.

But of hurricanes? Not much is known in the Indian context! We do hear of the East coast of our country - particularly the Andhra and the Orissa coast line being battered by Cyclones and Toophans, of sea walls ravaging the coastline in their wake leaving behind rampage and destruction. But not even the meteorological department of India has any worthwhile data for analysis. So you tap the internet. Even the internet is devoid of data on cyclones or hurricanes in the Indian region. This, when most sea disturbances that cause depressions and resultant wind activation are supposed to originate and occur in the tropical belts of the Indian Ocean between India and the African Continent. In the circumstances, it is no wonder that most hurricanes known, named and listed are in the Atlantic/Pacific region, taking centre stage in so far as world data on hurricanes is concerned.

The scant info for the Indian region available on the internet does have one detailed spatial analysis presented of the destruction caused by tropical hurricane 07B which made landfall on 6/7 November 1996 over the Godavari Delta region, Andhra Pradesh. Patterns of destruction by storm surge, wind and flood water are quantitatively mapped for death tolls, house destruction and agricultural damage using local administrative (mandal) data bases. There is mention of one other later, in the Assam belt. The case material on hurricane 07B and its effects are placed in context by reviewing and updating long and medium-term time series records of storm frequencies and impacts in the Bay of Bengal and particularly along the eastern coastline of India.

It is a different scene in the American context. Hurricane forecasting was known in the 1800s, though till the telegraph was invented in 1844, news of approaching hurricanes arrived just ahead of their landfall, when sailors seeking safe harbour announced them. Even with the telegraph, pinpointing the location of a hurricane though was difficult and tracking its course impossible. But thanks to satellite technology now, no hurricane goes unnoticed.

Over the past decade, satellites have been equipped with sensors that "see" through rain to pinpoint the centre, or eye, of a storm. To tell exactly where the centre of a developing storm is, in what direction it's headed, and how quickly it will move. Airborne computer labs now routinely fly into any hurricane -- defined as an intense tropical weather systems with winds over 74 mph -- that threatens to make landfall. Their crews drop sensors into the storm to determine the exact speed and direction of the wind, among the data.

Prior to 1950 storms weren't officially named. From 1950 to 1952 they were named simply Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, Easy, Fox, George...not very imaginative, but it sufficed. From 1953 to 1978 someone decided to use only female names. Finally, in 1979, they started alternating between male and female names. Hurricanes now are named alphabetically, years in advance and starting the alphabet over each year. The Atlantic and the Pacific have separate naming lists. Interestingly, in this year's list, Katrina and Rita were separated by Lee, Maria, Nate, Ophelia and Philippe - the others in 2005 being Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Dennis, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Harvey, Irene, and Jose.

900 words: 27.09.2005: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// and


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