CHENNAI: Revamping its current Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for cyclones, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) is finalising a new protocol to deal with rapid intensifying cyclonic storms like Ockhi, which wrecked havoc on Tamil Nadu and Kerala coasts last November-December.
The new protocol will mandate coastal States to initiate emergency response measures before a weather system is declared as ‘’cyclonic storm”. This will be applicable only for those weather systems that develop, cross or skirt close to the coast and pose potential threat to coastal communities.
KJ Ramesh, Director General of Meteorology, IMD, New Delhi told Express that the department was working closely with National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and State governments on formulating the new protocol specifically for weather storms like Ockhi.
“As per the current SOP, emergency measures will kick in only when the weather system is declared as a cyclone by respective Area Cyclone Warning Centre (ACWC), but the new protocol will mandate the local authorities like State Disaster Management Authority to swing into action even when the system is at depression stage,” he said.
IMD chief said a final draft was being prepared and consultations with coastal State governments were being held simultaneously. “We will roll out the revised SOP before this north-east monsoon. The cyclonic season will start in October,” he said.
Welcoming IMD’s decision, former deputy director general of meteorology at regional meteorological centre, Chennai told Express that the current colour-coded four-stage cyclone warning system is effectively useless while dealing with fast-travelling storms like Ockhi. “IMD and State authorities were caught completely off guard when Ockhi struck. We need a separate SOP that will define who has to do what when something is rapidly developing close to the coast.”
Cyclone Ockhi that struck the Indian coast in the end of November 2017 killed 365 persons, according to information shared by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Parliament, making it the deadliest since the Odisha super cyclone of 1999 that claimed around 10,000 lives.
Ockhi claimed 203 lives in TN, including those still missing and presumed dead. Kerala reported 60 dead and 102 missing, all of whom have now been presumed dead by the State government.
Cyclone Ockhi was an unusual cyclone as it emerged quickly and travelled rapidly. According to IMD itself, Ockhi developed from a depression to cyclonic storm within 24 hours — previously unheard off and unprecedented. “There is no record of such a event occurring in the last 100 years. Still, IMD has done its best to send out the alerts on time. There were no lapses on our part,” a senior IMD official maintained.
A senior official in Tamil Nadu State Disaster Management Authority told Express that inputs had been shared with the IMD on Ockhi. The official admitted that the authority was caught helpless when Ockhi struck.