Residents of Tamil Nadu are watching Cyclone Nada as it makes its way towards the state’s coastline with a mixture of relief and apprehension.

After a disappointing monsoon, steady rain doused parts of Tamil Nadu, including Chennai, as the cyclone made its way across the Bay of Bengal on Thursday. Overcast skies, cool breeze and the showers have lifted the hopes of farmers, who bore the brunt of the inadequate rainfall in November. The cyclone is expected to land between Vedaranniyam, a town on the state’s coast, and the union territory of Puducherry early on Friday, according to the Indian Meteorological Department.

However, the deluge in Chennai and other parts of the state in December last year, which killed nearly 300, is still fresh in the minds of residents, who are hoping that the state administration and municipal body will be better prepared this year to handle heavy rainfall.

By Thursday afternoon, reports said the cyclone had weakened to a “deep depression”, though private forecaster Skymet Weather has said that Tamil Nadu’s capital Chennai and its surrounding areas will continue to experience heavy showers as the cyclonic system moves northwest.

Preparing for the worst

Tamil Nadu receives the bulk of its rainfall during the retreating North East monsoon, which arrived in the state after a week’s delay on October 31. However, the monsoon failed to bring much-needed respite to the state, recording an over 80% deficit and the state is facing a water crisis. The neighbouring Union territory of Puducherry has not had better luck – seeing an 84% deficit in rainfall.

While the showers could help reverse the declining lake levels in the state, private weather forecaster AccuWeather has predicted the possibility of heavy flooding across a large parts of southern India through the weekend. But S Balachandran, Director of Area Cyclone Warning Centre in Chennai, told The Hindu, “While there will be fairly widespread rains till Friday in most parts of coastal Tamil Nadu, there may not be torrential downpour like last year.”

Tamil Nadu’s School Education Department had announced holidays for schools in six districts across the state on Thursday and Friday. Schools are also shut in Puducherry for these two days. Fishermen have been warned not to venture out into the sea, as the water is expected to be rough along and off the coast.

Tamil Nadu authorities told the media that necessary precautionary measures have been taken. According to reports, teams from the National Disaster Response Force have been deployed in the coastal districts as a precautionary measure, while the Western Naval Command said it is on alert.

Disaster prevention measures have also been stepped up near the coastal village of Kille in Cuddalore district, where the cyclone is expected to land. “The revenue department has been giving us regular updates about the weather,” said Neethi Mani, one of the leaders of the fisherfolk in Kille.

But Mani said that although the lives of the fisherfolk were not in danger, the same cannot be said about their livelihoods. The fishermen fear that strong winds will tear apart their boats and sweep away their fishing nets.

“This region is hit by a cyclone almost once in every year,” said Neethi Mani. “Cyclone Thane destroyed all the fishing equipment, for which we fisherfolk invest over Rs 5 lakh totally. These cyclones take away our year-long savings in one day.” Cyclone Thane hit the coast of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry on December 31 last year, killing at least 33.

Will it be enough?

South Indian farmers are heavily dependent on the North East monsoon for water for irrigation. According to the Met department, Tamil Nadu receives 48% of its annual rainfall in this period, while Kerala and Karnataka receive about 20%.

The farmers thus have welcomed the rainfall with relief.

However, some are sceptical about whether this will make up for the shortfall in November. “It did not rain at all in November, said K Shanmugan, a farmer from Chinnaippet village of Kanchipuram district. “Only yesterday, it began to drizzle a little. If it continues to rain this way, our lakes will never fill up.”

Credit: India Meteorological Department
Credit: India Meteorological Department

Shanmugam said that the farmers of this region usually irrigate their crops through the excess water discharged from overflowing lakes. This is sent to the villages through a series of channels. “Those who can afford pump sets sowed their crop earlier this season,” said Shanmugam. “Many others were waiting for signs of rain to even begin sowing.”