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Tamil Nadu looks east with a hint of worry at a possible sequel to heavy rain that accompanied Cyclone Mandous, before it powered its way to the west coast. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) said in its forecast on Wednesday that until December 20, the skies over Chennai are likely to be generally cloudy, with the possibility of light rain in some areas until December 16, and light to moderate rain in the subsequent days.
Light and moderate rainfall are technical descriptions of the IMD indicating 2.5 to 15.5 mm of rain and 15.6 to 64.4 mm respectively. Independent weather watchers such as Pradeep John think there could be “widespread rains” in Tamil Nadu from December 19.
Although Chennai was mainly dry on Wednesday, the 24 hours of rainfall in many other parts of Tamil Nadu indicates that high precipitation levels still persist over some parts of the State. In a single day (24 hours until Wednesday morning), 30 cm of rain fell on Coonoor in the Nilgiris, while Needamangalam (Tiruvarur) recorded 16 cm, Tirumanur (Ariyalur) 15 cm and some other parts of the Nilgiris and Thiruvaiyaru (Thanjavur) recorded 10 cm.
Music amid rains?
Among those watching the skies with some apprehension are thousands of rasikas of Carnatic music, as Chennai’s music sabhas have full schedules set for the Margazhi music festival, the first after massive COVID-19 disruptions. The festival begins in the middle of December and works its way up to a crescendo in the New Year.
The most visible impacts of Mandous, which had wind speeds of about 92 km per hour as it approached the shore, were the fallen trees, the eroded planks of the recently opened special access platform on the Marina for people with disabilities, and the disrupted power supply
Only last Saturday, the Tamil Nadu government breathed a sigh of relief as Cyclone Mandous howled through the coastal belt around Chennai on the night of December 9, without inflicting heavy casualties and loss of property. The biggest losses were hundreds of trees that fell in the city and suburbs, and these were quickly removed by civic personnel. The hastily constructed high-capacity storm water drains helped many areas escape the crippling waterlogging that is etched in public memory from 2021.
Vembakkam in Tiruvannamalai district got the most amount of rain, soaking in a staggering 25 cm of downpour in the 24-hour period from December 9 morning, while several suburban and even core Chennai areas fared well too, shaking off the northeast monsoon rainfall deficit that existed before Mandous arrived.
It poured 17 cm in Avadi, 15 cm in Ayanavaram Taluk Office, 14 cm in Perambur, 13 cm each in Sriperumbudur, Tambaram, MGR Nagar, Alandur and Gummidipoondi, 12 cm each in Chennai airport, Korattur, Ambattur and Red Hills, 11 cm each in Mylapore DGP office, Nungambakkam and Poonamallee and 10 cm at Anna University, while several west central, hill and south eastern districts received less.
The most visible impacts of Mandous, which had wind speeds of about 92 km per hour as it approached the shore, were the fallen trees, the eroded planks of the recently opened special access platform on the Marina for people with disabilities, and the disrupted power supply.
City’s water landscape
In Chennai’s natural rainwater drainage gradient along the east, covering Pallikaranai, some localities were predictably waterlogged this year too. But it was a rare report on television. It is worth recalling that hydrologists have been pointing out that the entire plain towards the southeast leading from the city centre towards Pallikaranai has been overrun by thoughtlessly executed real estate projects.
By swinging lightly, Mandous avoided creating a crisis for the DMK government, which faces a determined opposition campaign by the BJP and its leader K Annamalai against it. Meanwhile, Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) leaders Dr S. Ramadoss and Dr Anbumani Ramadoss sent bouquets to Chief Minister M K Stalin, praising the government’s preparedness for extreme weather.
Only a day earlier, when the storm was about 400 km away at sea, the NGO Arappor Iyakkam questioned the DMK leadership for putting up a massive steel flag post to fly the black-and-red DMK flag at the junction of Anna Salai and Whites Road. “What will you do if there is a massive cyclone and this giant post falls,” asked Arappor leader Jayaraman in a social media video. On Wednesday, Arappor Iyakkam said on Twitter that the flag post had been removed.
A question of planning
Chennai may have escaped thus far the wrath of a massive cyclone, but it has a continuing problem with poorly regulated housing. The drainage pattern is ignored by builders and mostly not taken into account by the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) and Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC).
The CMDA has not demarcated places with flooding risk as no-go areas. It has also not built fresh water storage sites like lakes and ponds within the city and in the suburbs to trap monsoon waters
The CMDA has not demarcated places with flooding risk as no-go areas. It has also not built fresh water storage sites like lakes and ponds within the city and in the suburbs to trap monsoon waters: rainwater is viewed not as a problem but as a resource by environmentalists. Even temple tanks have potential to store a lot of water if renovated and connected to streets.
The CMDA would also have to factor in the monsoon and climate-linked events when drafting the Third Master Plan, work on which is underway. It worries many, for instance, that 2023 could be the onset of an El Nino year — after a gap of many years — which may see a slide in rain volume. This could mean water shortage in 2024. Climatologist James Hansen and his team think 2024 could be a record hot year worldwide.
Focus on trees and roads
It may not yet be the end of the storm season. This means the big ticket work of fixing roads and pavements in Chennai would get postponed to a future date. Improving road space use can minimise the disruption already experienced throughout 2022, as giant machines work on Phase II of Chennai Metro along congested roads. This activity is programmed to peak in 2023, calling for measures to smooth traffic flow.
The road upgrade programme for Chennai alone is worth Rs 1,171 crore, covering over 1,680 km, according to a government announcement.
There is also the question of tree planting to replace the many that have fallen — including inside the Arignar Anna Zoological park at Vandalur — and to choose species that are better suited to Chennai’s climate, and can withstand fierce winds.
Here, a list put together by botanist and member of the Tamil Nadu Biodiversity Board, Prof D Narasimhan, who taught at Madras Christian College, has been available for some time. The choices could range from Cansjera rheedii (Kalimanakeerai), which goes up to just about 4 metres, to Pungam, Vaagai, Vellai Marudhu and Magizham which could rise to even 20 metres, he says. The list, titled ‘Trees Suitable for Planting along Avenues and for Urban Forestry” can be viewed here.
Trees best suited for urban avenues are those with root systems that will not affect nearby structures and be deep enough to withstand severe weather. They should also provide good shade. Avenue trees can host birds and other creatures and harmonise with the ethnic botany of the region. Growing fruit trees would also be in line with the global trend of turning public spaces into food gardens.
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