Was Cyclone Ockhi a case of delayed forecast? – A blogger’s perspective

With each passing day the gut wrenching scenes from the fishing hamlets around Kanyakumari affected by Cyclone Ockhi will haunt a lot of weather enthusiasts.  Did we fail in anticipating an impact of this magnitude? Could we have proactively played a role in providing advance warning of a possible cyclone to brush Kanyakumari coast?  It is indeed an irony we are making this post on the same day when a year back Cyclone Vardah made landfall over Chennai an event where many weather bloggers including this one provided an advance warning to the citizens of Chennai of a possible direct landfall over Chennai.

Over the course of 3 videos we will try to answer some of the queries whether sufficient advance warning could have been given to the fisherman especially those who are out Deep Sea Fishing staying off the coasts for more than couple of weeks.  Before that we will try to understand the positions of Cyclone Ockhi on the fateful day with the perspective of the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone which stretches to about 200 Nautical Miles from the Indian borders.

As one can see Cyclone Ockhi stayed within 100 Nautical Miles radius of Kanyakumari for nearly 24 hours and for nearly 36 hours over the 200 Nautical Mile Radius which is where traditional fishing could take place.  We could call it freak or unprecedented what ever it may be but the path taken by Cyclone Ockhi pretty much ensured a disaster was on the cards unless it was known well in advance and fishing was completely brought to a standstill.

Now let us look at what two leading weather models, ECMWF & GFS, had predicted for 30th Nov. 2017.  In these videos we see the outputs from 240 hours in advance till 12 hours in advance of 5:30 AM IST, 30th Nov. 2017 to understand if the models could have indicated about a potential catastrophe ahead of us.

ECMWF for sure was consistent in picking up a potential disturbance around this period well in advance though the locations & intensity was varying thereby preventing a clear picture.  From Around 72 hours in advance it started consistently showing the disturbance over Comorin Sea & from 48 hours in advance it showed a potential cyclone.

Going to GFS it was even more inconsistent compared to ECMWF showing potential Cyclones / Depressions all over the place around Bay of Bengal / Arabian Sea.  Around 60 hours in advance it narrowed down to possible disturbance in Comorin Sea and picking up a potential cyclone about 12 hours earlier compared to ECMWF around the 36 hours mark.  Both ECMWF & GFS showed a strong cyclone off the coast of Kanyakumari only around 12 hours in advance.

Through our post on November 29th 2017 when it was still a low pressure we had alerted about possible trouble ahead for South TN, IMD started alerting as well from the time it became a depression a few hours later.  In hindsight these warnings became counter productive as those fishermen heading back to coasts thanks to warning bore the brunt of Cyclone Ockhi.

Could the fishermen themselves using their traditionally acquired knowledge of seas & instinct prevented this catastrophe.  We try to find answers for that through the surface wind charts over the seas courtesy INCOIS.  Once again the seas were relatively calm until 28th Nov. 2017 though many isolated areas were seeing wind speeds in excess of 35 km/h over parts of Bay, Arabian Sea & Indian Ocean.

On 29th the wind speeds picked up to nearly 60 km/h over the Comorin Sea which intensified further to 80 km/h on 30th Nov. right near the coast catching the returning fishermen off guard.  The peak winds of 90 km/h over large parts of Laccadive Sea on 1st December possibly played a role in immediate search and rescue operations and also impacted those fishermen who drifted NW under the influence of Cyclone Ockhi’s movement.

While no amount of hindsight learning / corrections etc is going to provide solace to those grieving fishermen from the bloggers’ perspective we have tried to list a few potential points that organizations like NDSMA & Government of India could incorporate in the days to come to prevent another disaster like this.