The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Calamity clouds shroud Calcutta
- it’s 2, pm, not am: night descends in afternoon in rare phenomenon

Calcutta, Sept. 20: Four monster clouds, two of them taller than the Everest, bore down on Calcutta today, shut the sun out and threw a thick blanket of darkness a little after noon across a 30-km area.

Weathermen called it a rare “meso-scale” phenomenon — a massive concentration of cumulonimbus clouds, the tallest extending 14 km, roughly the distance from Chowringhee to the airport, into the skies above the city and the shortest 6 km.

The extra-terrestrial darkness that engulfed the city — sending pedestrians under cover, Writers’ Buildings babus to the edges of the corridor and crows to temporary silence that lasted at least two hours — was matched by terrestrial darkness as pockets of south Calcutta went without power after a feeder-line tripped.

But the darkness within was nothing to match the darkness out. Every car had its head- and fog-lights on, every commercial establishment and office had every light on and even the usually unmoveable Calcutta Municipal Corporation ordered streetlights to be switched on.

The calamity cloud, weather officials said, was caused by the convergence of at least four cumulonimbus cloud-cells over Calcutta skies.

Officials explained that the unusual convergence of the clouds was caused by two reasons: one, a low-pressure belt that had its epicentre about 300 km south of the city in the Bay of Bengal; and two, the interaction between moist and dry air. The second phenomenon, the officials said, is not unusual during the transitional phase of the monsoon.

Whatever the scientific reasons, Calcuttans vouched they had not seen anything as spectacularly dark — save a solar eclipse — in the afternoon in their lifetime. Writers’ Buildings officials, under cover, craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the “never-before occurrence” even as less fortunate Calcuttans scurried for the nearest shelter to escape the drenching that was sure to follow.

The clouds did not disappoint. Nearly 100 mm of rain fell in some areas in two hours from 2.30 pm and was enough to drown the city with civic officials — yet again — looking for alibis to explain the waterlogged state.

“The city’s drainage network was not built to take so much of rainfall in so brief a span of time,” mayor Subrata Mukherjee said. “CMC employees are still doing their best to clear the mess,” he added.

It was some mess all right; street after Calcutta street went under water. Many drivers parked their vehicles along the waterlogged kerbs with visibility dropping to near-zero and those who stayed in the middle fared no better, with traffic in some areas grinding to a complete standstill.

Things were not helped by the Ballygunge pumping station coming to a halt after the supply of power in the Ritchie Road area tripped. Many blocks of the area, too, shared the pumping station’s fate. Traffic on the tracks responded as badly to the situation with signals going out of order in the Howrah division of Eastern Railway. The railway was successful in ensuring the movement of trains around 5.30 pm, only after the rain in all its fury had let up.

n See Metro

Circular Railway tracks, too, were under three feet of water at one time. The entire stretch between B.B.D. Bag and Burrabazar was under water, making movement of trains impossible from around 2.30 pm.

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