It was an IIT-Bombay professor who first sounded the alert on the fast-moving Cyclone Phailin, five days before it actually hit the east coast on Saturday night.
Professor Kapil Gupta, who has been studying urban flooding since the 2005 Mumbai floods, noticed the warning on October 7, on a website run by the US Air Force and Navy. He alerted the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), which brought together all the concerned agencies, leading to the timely evacuation of over nine lakh people. Though the US website said it was a “medium alert”, the Indian agencies preferred not to take a chance.
Gupta, a member of the core team which advises NDMA on natural disasters, said he regularly monitors various weather websites, including that of the Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Centre (JTWC). On October 7, at around 11:30 pm, he saw the warning on the Bay of Bengal.
“Like every other day, I was monitoring JTWC’s website... they had issued a warning of a possible cyclone. At that time it was a medium alert. I immediately informed the NDMA through SMS and e-mail. Since I have been studying urban flooding, I regularly monitor the international websites. This was the best monitored cyclone. It is one of the biggest cyclones, with an average diameter of 700 kms,” said Gupta.
The next morning, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) passed on real-time information about the cyclone to the NDMA.
“We knew it was going to be big. I got the first message from Prof Gupta about a week back. He even sent a satellite image of the cyclone which was building. The IMD was also on the job and they gave accurate information. All this helped us to be better prepared,” said M Shashidhar Reddy, Vice Chairman, NDMA.
“This was no Uttarakhand because we had precise information this time. The early warning system gave accurate information. The IMD was sharing information in real time. It was confident this time