On October 12, 2014, Visakhapatnam, for the first time in modern history, had witnessed an unparalleled natural calamity when it was struck by the Very Severe Cyclonic Storm Hudhud.
During landfall, the wind speed had picked up to over 185 kmph, uprooting lakhs of trees and thousands of electric poles in its path. The destruction had left over 60 persons dead across three coastal districts, and it took weeks for the city to limp back to normal.
The abnormality of the cyclone was attributed to global warming and climate change by the scientists. Thereafter, the district had felt the effect of at least eight severe cyclonic storms.
Is the city vulnerable to climate change? As per the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Visakhapatnam is one among the six cities identified by the scientists that could be exposed to coastal flooding if the sea levels rise by 50 cm due to global warming.
The other five cities are Kochi, Kolkata, Chennai, Surat and Mumbai.
“The Indian peninsula is already experiencing monsoon extremes, and such phenomenon will only be experienced more in the future. There is definitely a threat to the city,” S.S.V.S. Ramakrishna, former Head of the Department of Oceanography and Meteorology, Andhra University, told The Hindu .
“But more than Visakhapatnam, Kakinada and Machilipatnam have a bigger threat,” Prof. Ramakrishna added. According to him, the ocean temperatures are rising due to global warming, and the temperature in the Indian Ocean has risen much quicker than expected.
“The huge disparity in the temperatures of the land and the ocean may lead to the formation of many cyclonic systems, which will have the potential to develop into very severe cyclonic storms such as Hudhud, Titli and Amphan. Both wind and rainfall will be high, which will lead to increase in the sea level,” Prof. Ramakrishna said.
“This apart, the melting of the glaciers due to global warming is causing the sea level to rise higher and quicker than predicted. These factors will finally lead to inundation, or flooding of the coastal cities and regions,” opine Prof. Ramakrishna and a few scientists from the Geological Survey of India and the scientists researching on the Bay of Bengal in Andhra University.
Prof. Ramakrishna, however, said that the topographical features of Visakhapatnam, with its hills and hillocks, would protect it to some extent.
“But some areas such as the Beach Road up to Bheemunipatnam and the low-lying areas such as East Point Colony and M.V.P. Colony may be under threat,” he said.
“The threat is higher for Machilipatnam and Kakinada, as the difference between the land mass and the sea is very small,” Prof. Ramakrishna said. Another threat looming is the possibility of thunderstorms.
“Global warming has rendered monsoon erratic and extreme, and is giving way to high-intensity thunderstorms, which will increase the possibility of flash floods and landslides. Moreover, during thunderstorms, the rainfall is quick and high, and this will also increase the sea level,” said Prof. Ramakrishna.