A new storm forecast to be the strongest to hit Myanmar in more than a decade is expected to make landfall near the Bangladesh border on Sunday, raising the prospect of a major humanitarian disaster.
The storm, Cyclone Mocha, formed over the southern Bay of Bengal on Thursday and has already started drenching western Myanmar as it churned northeast on Friday, with heavy rain, strong winds and storm surges forecast to continue through Sunday, according to the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System.
Myanmar and Bangladesh began deploying thousands of volunteers and ordering evacuations from low-lying areas, Agence France-Presse reported, in a region that is home to some of the world’s poorest people, who are especially vulnerable to increasingly severe weather events.
The storm’s sustained winds of 60 miles per hour, recorded on Thursday night, were expected to strengthen to 110 m.p.h. by the time it made landfall, forecasters at the Joint Typhoon Warning Center said.
If that forecast holds, Mocha would be the strongest storm to make landfall in Myanmar since Cyclone Giri, which in 2010 packed winds of 143 m.p.h., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s historical cyclone tracks. That storm killed at least 45 people in Myanmar.
Cyclones are highly destructive. The term “cyclone” refers to a type of tropical cyclone — the umbrella term for all such storms, like hurricanes and typhoons — that forms in the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian Sea, both located in the northern Indian Ocean.
Scientists say that climate change has helped intensify storms because the unusually warm ocean temperatures provide more energy to fuel tropical cyclones.
Cyclone Mocha comes as a deadly heat wave has been searing Southeast Asia for weeks. In April, Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, hit 105.1 degrees, its highest temperature in six decades. Laos’s capital, Vientiane, reached 108.5 degrees on Saturday, the hottest temperature on record. Thailand has also recorded triple-digit temperatures.
The Bay of Bengal, in the northeastern part of the Indian Ocean, has had a long history of major storms. Cyclone Amphan killed more than 80 people in India and Bangladesh in 2020. In 2017, Cyclone Mora tore through Sri Lanka and the homes of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Myanmar, killing at least 194 people.
In 2008, Cyclone Nargis became the second-deadliest tropical cyclone on record and the deadliest in Myanmar, killing more than 135,000 people. In 2007, Cyclone Sidr struck Bangladesh, killing more than 3,000 people.
In Myanmar, the risk of devastation is compounded by its ongoing civil war, which has displaced some 1.8 million people across the country, with the region south of the Bangladesh border being an active fighting zone and home to several large refugee camps.