The coastal city of Chennai in India is recovering from one of the worst floods in a century.
October through December is usually considered the wet season in southern India. But this past November, Chennai received 300% of its average rainfall for the month. On December 1st, 12 inches of rain fell in just one day, making it the wettest single day in 100 years.
To add to the city’s woes, a freshwater lake on the outskirts of the city had reached maximum capacity. Water from the reservoir was released into a river that originates in the lake and flows through some of the most densely populated areas of the city. The river overflowed its banks and flooded many homes.
Where Is Chennai?
Chennai is the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is the fourth largest city with a population of 9 million. The city is also home to many technology companies and car (and car-parts) manufacturing companies for Nissan, Hyundai, Ford, and others.
The release of water from the freshwater lake caught residents without warning. More than 280 have lost their lives. India’s military forces were called in to aid in rescue operations. The flooding has also inundated many car factories - the impact of which will be worldwide.
Many citizen groups organized themselves to help with rescue efforts and provide food and supplies to those affected. The flooding has also inundated many of the car factories - the impact of which will be worldwide.
Nature's Fury Or Man-made Disaster?
The unseasonably heavy rains are a result of the well-known El Nino phenomenon that we had written here. El Nino is a weather phenomenon that takes place along our Earth’s tropical regions every 3-5 years. As water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean rise due to warming of the air above, ocean currents change. This brings unusually wet winters to the coast of North and South America, and dry weather to Asia.
In India, there is another local El Nino phenomenon due to warming of the waters of the Indian Ocean. Known as Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), this phenomenon combined with El Nino, has caused severe tropical depressions (low pressure, high wind) to form in the Indian Ocean. When these heavy, rain-laden clouds reach the coast, they cause heavy precipitation.
But can nature alone be blamed for the scale of the disaster? Poor infrastructure and lack of proper drainage meant the city was unprepared for such heavy rains. To make matters worse, many low lying areas and dried up waterbeds had been replaced by apartments and houses without proper permits.
With climate changes around the world, there will be more such storms in the future. Will the city learn from its experiences?