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After the powerful super-cyclone Amphan wreaked havoc on India and Bangladesh this week, a theory has emerged that the coronavirus lockdown – and resultant huge drop in air pollution – may have strengthened it.

At least 72 people were reportedly killed in eastern India, and a further 10 in Bangladesh, with thousands of homes destroyed and millions left without power, while many more were evacuated from low-lying areas that are now flooded, as seen in eyewitness video from ground zero.

#WATCH West Bengal: A portion of Kolkata Airport flooded in wake of #CycloneAmphanpic.twitter.com/28q5MdqoD2

#howrah#Kolkata#CycloneAmphanUpdates#CyclonAmphan Garage after amphan cyclone pic.twitter.com/I4rXV836Wr

“The impact of Amphan is worse than coronavirus,” Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of India’s West Bengal, told local media after 105mph winds uprooted trees, smashed electricity pylons to the ground and sent roofs and debris flying through the air.

Prayers 🙏 for everyone in West Bengal, Odisha and Bangladesh as Super Severe #AmphanCyclone makes landfall.Just hoping that the sheer might, gustiness, and destructive wind velocity of #Amphan gets curtailed and reduced as it passes. **STAY HOME & STAY SAFE*#AmphanCyclonepic.twitter.com/KKiOixtlyG

Coconut tree struck by lightning and burning in digha due to cyclone amphan pic.twitter.com/mUNJDMGmeA

#SuperCycloneAmphan hits Bengal ! Complete power outage in our area. #AmphanCyclon#AmphanUpdates#WestBengal#WeatherUpdate#Amphan#AmphanCyclone#CycloneAmphan#CycloneAmphanUpdatespic.twitter.com/a7C86TEnns

As authorities begin the clean-up operation, some in the scientific community began positing that the coronavirus lockdown and resulting economic and industrial slowdown may have greatly exacerbated the damage caused by the storm. 

Professor Vinoj Velu, of the Indian Institute of Technology Bhubaneswar, claims that the reduction in air pollution in the atmosphere, particularly soot particles, may actually have intensified the storm by allowing more of the sun’s energy to reach the sea. 

“The global warming effect, which tends to increase the strength of cyclones, is now amplified due to this human-induced lockdown effect,” Velu said.

Cyclone wind speed is largely determined by sea temperatures in the surrounding area, and the water in the Bay of Bengal reached a record high of 34 degrees Celsius in the first two weeks of May. Amphan’s windspeed reached up to 120mph as it made landfall between India and Bangladesh, making it as powerful as a category five hurricane.

Visuals of #AmphanSuperCyclone,Earlier from Andhra Pradesh before it left for coastal areas of Bengal & Odisha .Note : Their is no driver in this bus . pic.twitter.com/gjNZOPSTDD

Prior to hitting the two countries, Cyclone Amphan’s windspeed went from 50mph to over 130mph in just 24 hours. 

“These high temperatures can supercharge cyclones since they primarily draw their energy from evaporation at the ocean surface,” Dr Roxy Mathew Koll, a lead author of the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, said.

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