Just two months after suffering a major blow from Cyclone Fani, India is in line for a “very severe cyclonic storm” again as Cyclone Vayu churns ominously close. India’s western state of Gujarat will be in the crosshairs of a dangerous storm, set to bring flooding rains, damaging winds and a storm surge of at least several feet as early as Thursday morning.
Vayu has sustained winds of 100 mph, gusting to 125 mph, making it the equivalent of a Category 2 hurricane. The system is expected to intensify before a slow weakening trend takes over beginning Thursday evening. Still, Vayu will probably remain at or above hurricane strength until the weekend.
Vayu’s expected track will take it close to the Gujarat coastline, in western India on the shores of the Arabian Sea. Gujarat borders Pakistan to the north, with a population of more than 60 million people. Coastal cities like Porbandar and Somnath are “very likely” to see winds of 95-100 mph with gusts to 115 mph, according to the India Meteorological Department.
The warning states that “total destruction of thatched houses” is in the offing, with the “potential threat of flying objects.” The winds will abate farther inland.
It’s not just the winds that will be destructive. A seven-foot storm surge is “likely to inundate the low coastal areas,” which could put tens of thousands of residences in jeopardy, especially on the island of Diu. The island is home to 45,000 people and is off the Kathiawar peninsula. A river separates it from the Gujarat mainland, with only two major routes off the island. Diu is only a few meters above sea level and could be ground zero for significant flooding.
Inland flooding from rain will also be an issue. A red rainfall warning — at the top of India’s scale — has been issued for the Saurashtra peninsula and Kutch regions.
“Extremely heavy [rainfall] is possible at isolated places,” warned the India Meteorological Department, cautioning that eight inches or more is possible in some locations.
“Flooding of escape routes” is also a concern. While the axis of heaviest rainfall will probably stay offshore, more than two feet of rain could fall in the eyewall over the open water.
In advance of the potentially devastating storm, the Indian government reportedly has evacuated more than a quarter-million people. The government is widely known for its proactive evacuations, credited with saving tens of thousands of lives in recent years. Following a Category 5-equivalent storm in 1999 that claimed more than 10,000 lives, the Indian government overhauled its cyclone plan of action. When a storm of similar strength struck the same region in early May, the death toll in India was 34.
Weather models conflict on Vayu’s eventual path after its closest approach to land Thursday — some keeping the system offshore over the weekend, while others hint it might enter southern Pakistan.