Massive Cyclone Could Hamper Everest Summit Bids (Updated!)

Yesterday, we shared the news that two Chinese climbing teams on Everest’s North Side had finally launched their summit bids. High winds and avalanche danger had hampered those efforts last week, but now it seems as if conditions had lined up at long last, with at least one of the groups setting out from Base Camp. But now, it appears that the weather window that those climbers had counted on could be an extremely narrow one, as a massive cyclone in the Indian Ocean threatens to slam it shut.

Over the past few days, a cyclone called Amphan has been brewing in the Bay of Bengal and has begun a course that will see it make landfall in India and Bangladesh. Right now, it is expected to reach shore sometime tomorrow and when it does, it promises to leave devastation in its wake. Last night, the storm became the strongest ever recorded in the region, with wind speeds reaching 165 mph (270 km/h), putting it into the “Super Cyclone” category.

When the storm does reach land, it will of course begin to lose energy and intensity over time. But due to the size of Amphan, it will likely take awhile for that to happen. Before it does, the cyclone will have wide, and lasting, consequences on India, Bangladesh, and beyond. That includes bringing rain and snow to the Himalaya, with the potential for heavy precipitation and strong winds on Everest itself.

The exact course and timeline for how Amphan will play out remains to be seen, but due to its size and strength, it will have an impact on the region for the next few days at the very least. Whether or not that is enough time to get up and down Everest remains to be seen. However, considering the fact that the teams weren’t expected to arrive in Camp 1 until today lead me to believe that this cyclone would likely have an impact on the weather later in the week when the final push to the summit begins. As of now, that was scheduled to take place on Friday, so don’t be too surprised if the teams don’t cancel their ascents once again.

When the summit schedule was released yesterday, the date that the teams were eyeing for reaching the top was May 22. That’s starting to get fairly late into the season, although not dangerously so just yet. Traditionally speaking, most teams over the past decade or two have usually summited around May 15, give or take a few days. The goal is to get up, get down, and leave BC before the seasonal monsoons arrive, which typically begins around June 1. That date is still a little more than week and a half away yet, but if the weather window is closed again, it could be a few more days before another one opens. What that does to the schedule—and the chances for a successful summit—remain to be seen.

Stay tuned, it’s about to get really interesting.

Update: I received more information about this powerful storm from Michael Fagin, the meteorologist at Everestweather.com. He says that the cyclone will now make landfall on Wednesday as expected and will move into the Himalaya on Thursday. The good news is, it won’t hit Everest directly, but could still have winds approaching 70 mph (112 km/h) and bring heavy snowfall. How much snow and how strong those winds are will determine the chances of success on any summit bids. 

Michael tells me:

“Models really differ greatly on cumulative  storm totals of snow from Wednesday May 20 through and including Friday May 22. Some of the lower ends of the forecast  bring 5 inches (12.5 cm) of snow and the higher end models  close to 24 inches (61 cm)+.  I would think there is at least a 50%+ chance that Mt. Everest has cumulative (Wednesday through Friday)  totals 12 to 24 inches of snowfall at basecamp and 24 inches seems likely.

For winds I think on Wednesday or  Thursday we get some brief maximum wind gust of close to 70 mph+ (112 km/hr.) at some of the higher camps.”

It could get a little bumpy for the climbers over the next few days. If the winds are too high, they will certainly scrub any attempts on the summit. Stay tuned for more news as we get it.