Fake News alert: ‘Mahasen’ cyclone rumours; equinox hoax resurfaces in Nagaland

Fake News alert: ‘Mahasen’ cyclone rumours; equinox hoax resurfaces in Nagaland

(Image Courtesy: pixabay.com)

Morung Express News

Dimapur | May 16

Here are snippets of two ‘breaking news’ presently going viral on various social media platform in Nagaland and other places:

“Tropical cyclone Mahasen is expected to hit northeast India in the next 72 hours with heavy rains and thunderstorms expected in the region. On May 16, the cyclone is expected to cross the Bangladesh coast between Khepupara and Teknaff, close to Chittagong…”

[T] the Equinox phenomenon will affect us in the next 5 days. Please stay indoors and keep animals indoor or protected especially from 12pm-3pm daily…This can easily cause dehydration and sun stroke. (Ps: this phenomena is due to the sun directly positioned above the equator line (sic)…

With the onset of summer and pre-monsoon weather disturbances, the rumours mills are churning fake news and as apparent from the two instances cited above, it keeps resurfacing concurrently with the changing weather condition.

Unfortunately, such rumours spark concerns and make many gullible.

Neither ‘Mahesen’ nor cyclonic storm

Take the case of “Cyclonic Storm Mahasen,” a relatively weak tropical cyclone that caused loss of life across six countries in Southern and Southeastern Asia in May 2013.

According to the Indian Metrological Department (IMD) data, the Cyclonic Storm crossed Bangladesh coast at around 1:30 PM IST on May 13, 2013 “with a sustained maximum wind speed of about 85 -95 kmph.”

Incidentally, the name of the cyclone initially called ‘Mahasen’ was itself renamed “‘Viyaru,” following protests in Sri Lanka, who took affront over naming the cyclone after its king, Mahasena of Anuradhapura, who ruled the country from 277 to 304 AD.

The rumour may be attributed to weather events following the Cyclone Fani which hit Eastern India and surrounding areas on May 3.

It spread further after a self-proclaimed  “multi-app based hyper-regional bilingual news portal” in North East carried an article with the headline, “Cyclone Mahasen to make landfall in Northeast in 72 hrs.” The headline was changed afterwards.

Meanwhile, the fake message on the social media stated that the Nagaland government has issued an “alert on Mahasen.” Attributing a quote to “Nagaland home commissioner Temjen Toy,” who is actually the current Chief Secretary of the state, it informed that he has “called upon the public to be prepared for ‘expected severe weather conditions’ following information that the tropical cyclone originating from the Indian Ocean was expected to hit Bangladesh and Myanmar coast (sic).”

On April 16, Temjen Toy, IAS did ask “all the departments must take preventive checks and be prepared for any emergencies, as in Nagaland most disasters occur in the form of landslides due to excessive rain and clogged drainages during monsoon season .” 

However, the proceedings from the regular review meeting of the State’s pre-monsoon preparedness with AHODs, HODs and DCs in Kohima seems to be taken out of context to suit the current fake news on cyclone ‘Mahasen.’

According to a DIPR report, the meeting deliberated on action points relating to the disasters that may be faced with the onset of monsoon season in Nagaland

The Indian Metrological Department (IMD), in an update on May 15, had forecasted “more thunderstorm and lightning accompanied with squall and gusty winds” at isolated places over Nagaland and other North East states are “very likely” in the next two days (May 16 and 17), but no cyclonic warning was given.

The IMD is the official Indian government agency for such purpose.

 Equinox hoax: A regular phenomenon

The only thing real about the ‘Equinox hoax’ is that it keeps recurring at regular interval and mostly occurs before the onset of the hot summer season (April-May) in India when heat-wave affects parts of India.

However, the hoax is not restricted to Nagaland alone. A cursory review on the internet will show that it keeps constantly resurfacing across the globe during the period from February to May.

Last year too, The Morung Express debunked a similar rumour on social media (See, Another fake Equinox scare doing the rounds on social media)

which specifically asked “people to drink more water between May 22 – May 28 during an ‘Equinox,’ or risk dehydration or sunstroke” as an equinox was occurring that week.

The last year message read: “Drink more water for the next seven days (May 22-28) due to EQUINOX (an astronomical event where the Sun is directly above the Earth’s equator). Resultantly, the body gets dehydrated very fast during this period…”

While drinking water is not harmful, the information on the equinox phenomenon is completely fake.

Incidentally, a common high school science textbook would inform that Equinox occurs twice each year, around 20 March and 22-23 September and not in May, which in itself establishes the message as false. Equinoxes occur when the Earth is tilted neither toward nor away from the sun.

Oxford Dictionaries simply defined it as “The time or date (twice each year) at which the sun crosses the celestial equator, when day and night are of equal length (about 22 September and 20 March).” Equinox is a point in the year when daytime and nighttime are exactly the same length i.e. 12 hours each.

It attributed the word derivation to “Late Middle English: from Old French equinoxe or Latin aequinoctium, from aequi- ‘equal’ + nox, noct- ‘night.’”

A similar message also went viral on social media in March 2018, where an ominous message warned people against stepping out during peak hours of the day to avoid possible dehydration and sunstroke. The usual suspect: a heat wave caused by the ‘equinox phenomenon.’

Experts had, time and again, rubbished the scaremongering on social media.

So, the same advisory from The Morung Express last year still holds true:

“Drink lots of water, not for the sake of ‘Equinox,’ but summer is fast approaching and the days are getting hotter.”

Read some other Fake News Alerts here:

  1. Kidney hunters, eye scoopers: social media churns rumours mills
  2. Another fake Equinox scare doing the rounds on social media
  3. Shot of Life: Overcoming resistance to vaccination in Nagaland