Weather forecasters don’t always get it right – or even agree with each other. So it was ahead of India’s 2005 monsoon season, when battle was joined by the Centre for Mathematical Modelling and Computer Simulation in Bangalore (‘monsoon rains in July will be 12 per cent below average’) and the official India Meteorological Department in Delhi (‘average rainfall expected’). Accusations flew back and forth, but in the event both sets of experts got it very badly wrong.
The monsoon season lasts from June to September and is vital to the Indian economy. A ‘good’ season with ample rain boosts agriculture while a ‘bad’ season has a negative impact that ripples out into the wider economy. But the monsoon is both a blessing and a curse, as it sometimes causes serious problems. Mumbai, on the northwestern coast, is a city with perhaps 17 million inhabitants.
It originally consisted of seven developed islands, but has spread inland to become one of the world’s largest urban conurbations. In late July 2005, Mumbai suffered an unprecedented deluge when a record-setting 94.4 cm (37.2 in) of rain fell in a single day.
The bustling Andheri, Borivili, Chembur, Kurla, Sion, Wandala and Worli areas were inundated, sometimes with shoulder-deep water, and there was general flooding all over.
Electricity and telecommunications were knocked out, transport systems were paralyzed as roads and railways were flooded, and the airport was shut down. Intense rain also triggered devastating landslides that destroyed shanty towns. Tens of thousands were stranded in offices and people were killed by mudslides, falling walls, drowning in trapped vehicles or by electrocution; 15 children died in a stampede after hearing a false rumor that a dam had burst. The rains continued, albeit with lesser intensity, and the clean-up after Mumbai’s disastrous day took many months.
When: July 26 2005
Where: Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Maharashtra State, India
Death toll: Estimated at 1,000.
You should know: In 2009 the combination of peaking monsoon rains and the year’s highest tides caused another serious flood in Mumbai, though the consequences were nothing like as catastrophic as the terrible 2005 event.