Cyclone Tauktae hit Gujarat state, north of Mumbai, on India’s western coast, Monday night local time, as the nation is in the midst of a devastating wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fueled by very warm sea surface temperatures, the storm rapidly intensified over the weekend, a phenomenon occurring more frequently and linked to climate change. At about the equivalent of a Category 3 hurricane, Tauktae (pronounced tau-tae) was the strongest storm to hit the region since accurate satellite data began in 1998 when 4,000 people were killed, and was the fifth-strongest cyclone ever observed in the Arabian Sea. The India Meteorological Department predicted storm surge could reach 13 feet at the head of the funnel-shaped Gulf of Khambhat.

Climate change is making hurricane storm surges even higher and causing storms to rapidly intensify more frequently. Higher sea surface temperatures also fuel storms’ power and hotter air holds more moisture, which leads to increased rainfall. At least 12 people had already been killed and hundreds of thousands evacuated before the storm made landfall. The storm has begun to dissipate since making landfall but flooding was still a major concern with over 11 inches of rain observed in some places since Sunday. (Washington Post $, Yale Climate Connections, AP, Reuters, Economic Times, Hindustan Times, AP, CNN, Al Jazeera, AccuWeather, India Today, Weather Channel, UPI, Weather Channel; Climate Signals background: Hurricanes, Intense cyclonic storm frequency increase)