Nobody can predict a natural disaster, asserts world-famous Oceanographer
Prof. Charitha Pattiaratchi debunks Indian Kerala-based physics professor's so-called tsunami prediction that has struck fear among many Sri Lankans Says Sri Lanka now has an efficient tsunami warning system which would give Sri Lanka a red-alert and adeq
Nobody, simply nobody, can predict any natural disaster including a tsunami or an earthquake! But there is ample time to be prepared as there are effective warning systems in place.
This is the categorical assertion of world-famous Oceanographer, Prof. Charitha Pattiaratchi, in reaction to fear and terror spread by a prediction originating in India that a tsunami is imminent before December 31.
Before debunking the so- called tsunami prediction, he looks at the bad weather that has assailed Sri Lanka this week causing much destruction. On Wednesday, a tropical storm started to the east of Sri Lanka, crossed the southern coast and moved into the Gulf of Mannar, he says, explaining its ferocity.
“Usually, a tropical storm decreases in strength as it moves overland, but gathers momentum when rushing across the ocean, bringing strong winds and heavy rainfall to its south. This was what caught the southwest coast in their grip. After that there would be no powerful winds only heavy rain,” says Prof. Pattiaratchi explaining the weather conditions after Wednesday, before he flew home to Australia on Thursday night.
Prof. Pattiaratchi who is Professor of Coastal Oceanography at the Oceans Institute of the University of Western Australia was in Sri Lanka, taking a break from his busy schedules back home and also celebrating his 60th birthday on October 29.
According to him the pattern is that one such weather system is followed hot on its heels by another system, as the conditions are conducive. In the coming week there would be another tropical storm which would be felt on the northeast of Sri Lanka.
With gusty winds, overcast skies and heavy showers of rain following the build-up of pressure in the Bay of Bengal this week, the doomsday-predictions of an Indian Kerala-based physics professor, Babu Kalayil who claims to have extrasensory powers, are sending shivers up the spines of numerous Sri Lankans who are terrified of a tsunami.
“The fear is so chilling that parents are not sending their children to school in the south of Sri Lanka. It is just the fear of the unknown and people are ready to cling even to predictions which are very farfetched,” said Prof. Pattiaratchi.
Kalayil has ‘predicted’ that a massive earthquake will strike the Indian Ocean by December 31, affecting 11 countries including Sri Lanka, China, Pakistan, Japan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia and Afghanistan.
The earthquake will be severe enough to affect the “boundary of the seashore”, he had said, adding that there will be a storm which appears to bring about high-speed winds of up to “120-180km with mighty power”.
Pointing out that “nobody” predicted the December 26, 2004 tsunami, Prof. Pattiaratchi says a clear “No, no”, to such predictions. He stresses that all natural disasters including earthquakes are “unpredictable” before taking a “look” at the science behind earthquakes. The science is that there is a gradual build-up of friction between two tectonic plates, which makes one plate move slowly above the other. This releases the ‘pent-up’ energy which has been stored between the two plates for over hundreds and thousands of years. This release of energy is what set off the high-powered seaquake with the epicenter in the Indian Ocean close to Sumatra in Indonesia in 2004.
“There will never be a recurrence in 10-15 years of such a catastrophe,” says Prof. Pattiaratchi, underscoring that such an event would be repeated only in another 500 years or 1,000 years. “We do not expect a tsunami of that magnitude in our lifetime.”
He also points out that even though a tsunami is not predictable, there is an efficient tsunami warning system which would give Sri Lanka a red-alert and adequate time -- anything between 2½ hours to a minimum of at least 90 minutes (1½ hours) -- before it hits our shore. The tsunami warning system will give clear details of what time a tsunami will hit, where it will hit and how big a tsunami it is.
“This is a long time for those on the coastline to be evacuated,” he says, adding that there is absolutely no reason to be fearful.
Going back to 2004, Prof. Pattiaratchi who was on holiday in the south when the tsunami struck nearly 13 years ago, says the pent-up energy release continued to cause other tsunamis in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Since then, there have been tsunamis in different areas where there have been earthquakes but not a big one.
“There is nothing to get scared in Sri Lanka because these earthquakes have been towards the Far East and Australia,” he assures, explaining that cyclones work the same way.
Into the eye of the cyclone he ventures, while pointing out that even though the frequency of cyclones has increased in recent times due to climate change, the direct impact on Sri Lanka has reduced. In the 1950s and early ’60s, Sri Lanka was hit by a cyclone every year. This ended in 1964. Since then there has been a cyclone every five years and, sometimes, even less frequently, in seven years. They do come close to Sri Lanka but veer away soon after.
This is due to an increase in the number of storms in the Bay of Bengal. However, due to the water temperature being high as a result of climate change, these cyclones go north, away from the Equator travelling to north India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, he says. “We don’t have direct hits from these cyclones. We feel their impact a little bit on the edge of the eastern coast.”
Recalling the major floods that submerged Sri Lanka in May, Prof. Pattiaratchi points out that they were due to a tropical storm that arose from the Bay of Bengal and developed into a tropical cyclone called ‘Mora’ which had severe impacts on the northern side of the Bay of Bengal claiming 100 lives. It remained “stuck” to the north- east of that area bringing lots of rain.
“Now we are also facing inter-monsoonal winds which bring with them thunderstorms and rain,” he adds.
Prof. Charitha Pattiaratchi