Visualising Tropical Cyclone Fani’s Path of Destruction in Real-Time

Tropical Cyclone Fani makes land-fall over Puri, Odisha state, India, coinciding with a dramatic drop in internet connectivity measurements as observed by the Monash University IP Observatory in near real time. Cyclone path: JTWC

The Bay of Bengal: Home to deadly Tropical Cyclones

The Bay of Bengal has been the deadliest spot on earth for cyclones throughout history — and today the scale of these kinds of natural disasters may be getting worse than ever. As the world holds its breath this weekend for news of the impact of Cyclone Fani, the Monash IP-Observatory has been offering early indicators of how bad the fallout may be by tracking the connectivity impact in near-real time.

This latest historic-scale natural disaster lashed through the Bay of Bengal at winds higher than 120 mph and made landfall in the Indian state of Odisha on Friday. By Saturday morning Cyclone Fani had dropped an estimated eight inches of rain on India and arrived in Bangladesh, leaving at least 12 Indians dead. India and Bangladesh have evacuated a million people each, and the Indian authorities said Friday they had already sprung into action to restore phone, power, and Internet connections as quickly as possible.

Cyclone Fani is the worst cyclone in 20 years to hit the Bay of Bengal — a region that has had a devastating relationship with nature in recent decades. In 1970, a tidal wave caused by the Great Bhola cyclone killed some 300,000 in what was then East Pakistan. More recently, the 1999 Cyclone 05B devastated India’s east coast and killed 10,000 people after many residents would not evacuate. And in 2007, Cyclone Sidr left 3,000 dead in Bangladesh.

The aftermath of these disasters spurred the Indian and Bengali authorities to train their focus on disaster preparation, and by the time Cyclone Phailin hit in 2013, India had improved its disaster response infrastructure enough to successfully evacuate a million people. This time, to help Indians weather Cyclone Fani, 850 shelters, each capable of holding 1,000 people together with their livestock, are operating on the Indian coast.

Remotely Observing the Path of Destruction

With connectivity interruptions across the Indian subcontinent slowing news of Fani’s full impact, the Monash IP-Observatory has been collecting IP connections data with its global platform to offer a proxy measure of the damage. So far the Observatory has detected major impacts in Bhubaneshwar and the Balasore region. The graphics above and below show the cyclone trajectory overlaid on IP-Observatory data from 132 unique locations over the likely impact area, with sampling taken roughly every 15 minutes. The blue/grey nodes show normal connectivity, while yellow indicates degraded connections and red shows areas that are effectively offline.

Impact mapping in near real-time from the Monash IP Observatory as tropical cyclone Fani makes land-fall in Odisha State, India 3 May 2019. Path: JTWC.

Our methodology uses the most basic Internet messaging protocol, used billions of times a day around the world to establish routes for email, tweets, or shares. Having carefully selected a set of Internet addresses (IPs) to measure, we periodically send them tiny messages, essentially asking, ‘Are on you online?’

During natural disasters, alternative data such as satellite and social media data as well as the IP data we collect at the IP-Observatory offer key information that can give first responders, humanitarian organizations, and news media an idea of how people are being affected on the ground and where resources should be allocated.

A Hostile Climate

Cyclone Fani is the latest in what is likely to be a worsening trend of historic-scale natural disasters, given the forecasts of climate scientists. With records of wet and dry weather being repeatedly set and broken in recent years, climate models predict that these extremes will become even more pronounced as the earth warms further. The impact of weather events like these is concentrated in areas at low sea level, often in developing countries with less to invest in disaster preparation.

With the worrisome climate outlook overshadowing the lives of people in regions like the ones now affected by Cyclone Fani, projects like our monitoring efforts at the IP-Observatory aim to help minimize the human cost of future disasters.

The mission of the Monash University IP Observatory — ‘internet insights for social good’ — is to monitor the availability and quality of the Internet during critical events such as elections, natural disasters or conflict to provide. The observatory was founded by Klaus Ackermann, lecturer in Econometrics and Business Statistics, and Simon Angus, and Paul Raschky, Associate Professors in Economics. The observatory is a project of SoDa Laboratories at the Monash Business School, and tweets @IP_Observatory.