India is now bracing for its strongest tropical cyclone in nearly five years. It is barreling towards 100 million people on the east coast, causing officials to begin emergency evacuations.
On Thursday, Tropical Cyclone Fani had winds of 190 kmph (118 mph) with gusts of 201 kmph (124 mph). This makes it equivalent in intensity to a Category 3 major hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
It is expected to hit Odisha state on Friday afternoon.
Fani was classified as an “extremely severe cyclonic storm.” India’s Coast Guard and Navy deployed ships and helicopters for relief and rescue operations. Army and Air Force units have also been put on standby in Odisha, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh states.
Some 900 cyclone shelters have been set up across Odisha to house evacuees and school is canceled across the state on Thursday and Friday. Teams are going door to door to warn people.
“They are being told what to take with them if they leave and the precautions they need to take if they stay,” said Ameya Patnaik, assistant commandant for the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) in Odisha.
Fani, which is still about 270 kilometers (170 miles) off of the coast off India, strengthened rapidly on Monday and Tuesday, becoming the strongest storm to move through the Bay of Bengal this early in the year since Tropical Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
Nargis went on to strike Myanmar with winds over 200 kph (124 mph), bringing a devastating storm surge and flooding rainfall that resulted in more than 100,000 deaths in the country.
Fani is expected to bring large storm surges and significant wind damage near the landfall location. Inland flooding will also be a major threat.
Tropical cyclone activity during the monsoon season is extremely rare because the monsoon is characterized by high wind shear, which makes it difficult for tropical storms to form.