Study report: Kerala floods of August 2018 (September, 2018)

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1.0 Introduction

Kerala State has an average annual precipitation of about 3000 mm. The rainfall in the State is controlled by the South-west and North-east monsoons. About 90% of the rainfall occurs during six monsoon months. The high intensity storms prevailing during the monsoon months result in heavy discharges in all the rivers. The continuous and heavy precipitation that occurs in the steep and undulating terrain finds its way into the main rivers through innumerable streams and water courses.

Kerala experienced an abnormally high rainfall from 1 June 2018 to 19 August 2018. This resulted in severe flooding in 13 out of 14 districts in the State. As per IMD data, Kerala received 2346.6 mm of rainfall from 1 June 2018 to 19 August 2018 in contrast to an expected 1649.5 mm of rainfall. This rainfall was about 42% above the normal. Further, the rainfall over Kerala during June, July and 1st to 19th of August was 15%, 18% and 164% respectively, above normal. Month-wise rainfall for the period, as reported by IMD, are given in Table-1.

Due to heavy rainfall, the first onset of flooding occurred towards the end of July. A severe spell of rainfall was experienced at several places on the 8th and 9th of August 2018. The 1- day rainfall of 398 mm, 305 mm, 255 mm, 254 mm, 211 mm and 214 mm were recorded at Nilambur in Malappuram district, Mananthavadi in Wayanad district, Peermade, Munnar KSEB and Myladumparain in Idukki district and Pallakad in Pallakad district respectively on 9 August 2018. This led to further flooding at several places in Mananthavadi and Vythiri in Wayanad district during 8-10, August 2018. Water was released from several dams due to heavy rainfall in their catchments. The water levels in several reservoirs were almost near their Full Reservoir Level (FRL) due to continuous rainfall from 1st of June. Another severe spell of rainfall started from the 14th of August and continued till the 19th of August, resulting in disastrous flooding in 13 out of 14 districts. The water level records at CWC G&D sites for some of the rivers in Kerala are given at Annex-I. As per the rainfall records of IMD, it has been found that the rainfall depths recorded during the 15-17, August 2018 were comparable to the severe storm that occurred in the year 1924.

1.1 Earlier floods in Kerala

The 1924 witnessed unprecedented and very heavy floods in almost all rivers of Kerala. Heavy losses to life, property and crops etc. had been reported. The rainstorm of 16-18, July 1924 was caused by the South-west monsoon that extended to the south of peninsula on 15th July and caused rainfall in Malabar. Under its influence, heavy rainfall occurred in almost entire Kerala. The area under the storm recorded 1-day maximum rainfall on 17th of July, 2- day maximum rainfall for 16-17, July 1924 and 3-day maximum rainfall for 16-18, July 1924. The centre of the 1-day and 2-day rainstorm was located at Devikulam in Kerala which recorded 484 mm and 751 mm of rainfall respectively. The centre of 3-day rainstorm was located at Munnar in Kerala which recorded a rainfall of 897 mm in 3 days.

The fury of 1924 flood levels in most of the rivers was still fresh in the memory of people of Kerala, the year 1961 also witnessed heavy floods and rise in the water levels of reservoirs. Usually in the State, heavy precipitation is concentrated over a period of 7 to 10 days during the monsoon when the rivers rise above their established banks and inundate the low lying areas. But in 1961, floods were unusually heavy not only in duration, but also in the intensity of precipitation. During the year 1961, the monsoon started getting violent towards the last week of June and in the early days of August, the precipitation was concentrated on most parts of the southern region of Kerala. By the first week of July, the intensity gradually spread over the other parts of the State and the entire State was reeling under severe flood by the second week of July. The worst affected area was Periyar sub-basin and it also impacted other sub-basins. Many of the important infrastructures like highways etc were submerged. After a brief interval, by the middle of July, the monsoon became more violent, affecting the northern parts of the State. The average rainfall was 56% above normal. The maximum daily intensities recorded at four districts in 1961 are given in Table-2.