The terrible cyclone Nargis that swept in from the Andaman Sea onto the low-lying coastal territories of southern Burma this week killed tens of thousands and left more than a million homeless. It was an impressive storm, even when seen from Earth orbit. Here's more on the image above.
Here's more from AccuWeather,com. And here are some color images shot before and after the storm.
Cyclones are no different than the hurricanes we see each summer in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. But the geographic protocol that applies to these storms states that those that affect South Asia are to be called cyclones.
When they occur in the Atlantioc or the eastern Pacific, they're called hurricanes, and when they spin up in the central and western Pacific, they're called typhoons.
Each geographic locale within those larger regions also gets its own list of names. It's a bewildering array. And, each region sets its own rules.
Our hurricane names run in six-year cycles, so that a list repeats in the seventh year, minus any that have been retired because of their notoriety. The names also alternate between male and female, and mix the cultural origins of the region.
But the other lists draw from their own ethnic name traditions and cycle with different patterns.
Nargis is the sixth name on List 2 under the Northern Indian Ocean category. The next cyclone out there will be Abe, followed by Khai Muk. Go figure.
Our first three storms this season will be Arthur, Bertha and Cristobal.
Speaking of hurricanes, today I spent a few hours observing as the Maryland Emergency Management Agency staged its annual hurricane exercise, at the state Emergency Operations Center in reisterstown.
They have been simulating the approach of Hurricane "Zoe," a Category 3 storm that appeared to be headed straight for the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.
(It was an interesting name choice. The Atlantic hurricane name list doesn't go to "Z." Not enough names available that start with "Z." And, while hurricanes have formed in May, the Atlantic basin naming protocol insists that each season's names start at the top of the alphabet, not the bottom.)
More than 80 participants from state and local agencies across Maryland gathered to grapple with the threat of such a storm. The script-writers said Zoe would crash ashore Wednesday afternoon with top sustained winds of 120 mph. A slight shift to the south on landfall would send a 9 to 12-foot storm surge up the bay. Anyone who was around during Tropical Storm Isabel knows well what a surge like that can do in downtown Baltimore, Fells Point and the western shore of the bay.
But Isabel was a tropical storm by the time it went ashore in North Carolina and came north into Maryland. The National Hurricane Center knows of only two storms that have made landfall in Maryland at hurricane force. A blast like Zoe would cause huge havoc. Downed trees throughout Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore. Power outages. Loss of potable water supplies. Mandatory evacuations of several hundred thousand people.
Chris Strong, the warning coordination meteorologist at the NWS Sterling office, told me that such a storm as Zoe, while unprecedented, is not impossible. He recalled Felix, in 1995, which made a bee-line for the Chesapeake, but stalled offshore, wobbled around a bit, then finally drifted away.
Next time we may not be so lucky.