Scientists think the coronavirus lockdown – and resultant huge drop in air pollution – may have strengthened the immensely powerful super-cyclone Amphan, which wreaked havoc on India and Bangladesh this week.
At least 72 people were reportedly killed in eastern India, and a further 10 in Bangladesh, with thousands of homes destroyed and millions left without power, while many more were evacuated from low-lying areas that are now flooded, as seen in eyewitness video from ground zero.
“The impact of Amphan is worse than coronavirus,” Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of India’s West Bengal, told local media after 105mph winds uprooted trees, smashed electricity pylons to the ground and sent roofs and debris flying through the air.
As authorities begin the clean-up operation, some in the scientific community began positing that the coronavirus lockdown and resulting economic and industrial slowdown may have greatly exacerbated the damage caused by the storm.
Professor Vinoj Velu, of the Indian Institute of Technology Bhubaneswar, claims that the reduction in air pollution in the atmosphere, particularly soot particles, may actually have intensified the storm by allowing more of the sun’s energy to reach the sea.
“The global warming effect, which tends to increase the strength of cyclones, is now amplified due to this human-induced lockdown effect,” Velu said.
Cyclone wind speed is largely determined by sea temperatures in the surrounding area, and the water in the Bay of Bengal reached a record high of 34 degrees Celsius in the first two weeks of May. Amphan’s windspeed reached up to 120mph as it made landfall between India and Bangladesh, making it as powerful as a category five hurricane.
Prior to hitting the two countries, Cyclone Amphan’s windspeed went from 50mph to over 130mph in just 24 hours.
“These high temperatures can supercharge cyclones since they primarily draw their energy from evaporation at the ocean surface,” Dr Roxy Mathew Koll, a lead author of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, said.
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