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CYCLONE "SIDR" OF 15 NOVEMBER 2007 IN BANGLADESH
George Pararas-Carayannis

Introduction

Cyclone "SIDR" was one of the 10 strongest cyclones to hit Bangladesh between 1876 and 2007. "SIDR" developed in the Bay of Bengal in early November2007. It further intensified into a category 4 storm system (on the Saffir-Simpson Scale) with peak sustained winds of up to 215 km/h (135 mp/h) (peaking at 260 km/hour). The cyclone made landfall in Bangladesh in the evening of November 15, 2007. SIDR and its surge resulted in thousands of deaths and massive destruction of coastal communities.

Formation and Path of Cyclone "SIDR"

9 November 2007- An air mass disturbance with weak low-level circulation begun developing in the central Bay of Bengal, southeast of the Andaman islands, in close proximity to the Nicobar Islands.

Moderate upper-level wind shear inhibited its organized development, however strong diffluence aloft aided in developing convection.

11 November 2007- The anomalous weather system was still somewhat south of the Andaman Islands. A better defined cyclonic circulation developed when the vertical shear begun decreasing. Based on that development, a "Tropical Cyclone Formation Alert" was issued for the region. Later that day, when winds reached 65 km/h (40 mph), the India Meteorological Department (IMD) designated the system as a Tropical Depression. Still later on November 11, the system intensified as it moved slowly in a north-westward direction. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) upgraded it to the designation of Tropical Cyclone.

12 November 2007 - As the system further intensified, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) further upgraded the weather system to a " severe cyclonic storm" and named it "SIDR".

SIDR's Landfall

15 November 2007- By the morning of 15 November 2007, Cyclone "SIDR" had moved considerably northward towards India's eastern border with Bangladesh. It had strengthened to reach Category-4 tropical cyclone status, with peak sustained winds of 215 km/h (135 mp/h). According to the JTWC best track, "SIDR" subsequently reached peak wind velocities of up to 260 km/h. Later that day, it appeared that the cyclone's brunt of force would be felt by the less populated areas known as "Sundarbans", the mangrove forest that stretches along the western third of Bangladesh's coast - a world heritage site that is home to the rare Royal Bengal Tigers. However, this did not happen. Around 1700 UTC that day, with still sustained winds of 215 km/h (135 mph), SIDR made direct landfall in the district of Bagerha, a highly-populated area of Bangladesh. A catastrophic surge flooded the area and caused most of the deaths and the damage.

16 November 2007- By November 16, "SIDR" weakened considerably as it moved over land.


Two NASA satellite photos show Cyclone "SIDR" as it approaches the coast of Bangladesh.

The Cyclone Surge


Bangladesh is a country that is almost entirely situated on an an enormous delta that has been formed by the confluence of Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers and their tributaries. This extensive river system is constantly fed by waters of melting snow from the Himalayan mountains. Thus, the entire country is mostrly flat and extremely vulnerable to flooding. Cyclone "SIDR" generated maximum flooding. The cities of Patuakhali, Barguna and Jhalokati District were hit hard by the storm surge that was over 5 meters (16 ft) In height. Fortunately, the cyclone made landfall when the tide was low, so the surge was not as high as it could have been.

Photo of damage by Cyclone SIDR in Bangladesh (photo by Jonathan Munshi)

Also, cyclone surge flooding occurred earlier along the coastal areas of north Chennai in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India. The storm's surge flooded areas up to a height of 3 metres (9.8 ft).

Death Toll and Damages

Most of the cyclones that have made landfall in Bangladesh in the past have caused thousands of deaths. "SIDR" was no exception. According to official accounts 3,447 people lost their lives. However this is believed to be inaccurate. The actual death toll may never be known with certainty. It is estimated that perhaps up to 10,000 people actually lost their lives, with thousands more injured, or missing. Thousands more were displaced and became homeless.

The damage in Bangladesh was extensive. About a quarter of the World Heritage Site "Sunderbans" was damaged. The entire cities of Patuakhali, Barguna and the Jhalokati District were hit hard by the cyclone's surge of over 5 meters (16 ft). There was extensive flood damage at Barisal and at Baniashanta, across from the port city, Mongla, as the cyclone's surge rolled in. In the town of Mothbaria, one of the towns in the very center of the devastation, there was hardly anything left standing, except of a few brick and concrete buildings. Houses and and schools were demolished. The storm's surge washed away all roads in the region. About 500 fishing boats were unnaccountable and over 3,000 fishermen were reported missing.

Much of the capital city of Dhaka was also severely affected due to the winds and the flooding which affected the city's infrastucture. Electricity and water service were cut.

The agricultural industry of Bangladesh was devastated by the flooding which covered about1 million hectares of farmable land. In brief, "SIDR" affected about 2 million families comprising about 9 million people. More than 1.5 million homes were destroyed.

Tracks of Cyclones in the Bay of Bengal (India Met Office)


Warning Issued

There was advance knowledge that cyclone SIDR would make landfall on Bangladesh. The warning was disseminated by emergency response authorities in Bangladesh, prompting massive evacuations of the low-lying coastal areas. A total of 2 million people were evacuated to emergency shelters and that probably contributed to the lower death toll. However, in spite of the warning, thousands of people were stranded on tiny little islands dotting the coastline, with no place to go because of the flatness of the land and its low elevation above sea level. There was simply no higher ground or shelters on stilts to evacuate to. Overall, the early warning system, preparedness and massive evacuations, resulted in a much lower death toll than that caused by the 1991 cyclone. However, property damage was as severe or even worse that that caused in 1991.


Past Cyclones and Cyclone Surges in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is extremely vulnerable to seasonal cyclones and floods. This is because a very large part of Bangladesh is located on river deltas with low elevation above the sea. These areas routinely suffer large-scale losses of life and property. Cyclones and depressions threaten the country every year during pre-monsoon and post monsoon seasons. In the past, cyclones and their surges originating in the Bay of Bengal, killed hundreds of thousands of people.

In 1960 a cyclone with winds up to 210 kmh made land fall in Bangladesh and killed about 10,000 people. Another cyclone in 1961, with winds of up to 161 kph killed 12,500 people. The 1963 cyclone that made landfall in the coastal Chittagong region, killed more than 11,500 people and destroyed about 1 million homes.

The deadliest of all was the cyclone of Nov 12, 1970. It made landfall on Bangladesh with winds of up to 222 kmph and a surge that was 10 meters high. It created havoc in the coastal districts of Barisal, Patuakhali, Noakhali, and Bhola. It destroyed Chittagong and many coastal villages, killing about half a million people. Still another cyclone in 1985 ripped through Urir Char and devastated Chittagong, Cox's Bazar and the coastal islands with 154 kmph winds and a 15 foot high surge that killed about 11,000 people. More recently, a cyclone in April 29, 1991 with 225 kmph winds swept over the coastal areas of Chittagong with a 25 foot surge and killed an estimated 143,000 people. Another cyclone on Nov 29, 1997 with winds of up to 224 kmph and a 6.1 meter surge, made landfall in the Chittagong region and killed about 150,000 people.

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