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Total precipitable water showing a surge of moisture from Cyclone Fani headed into northeast India. Image: University of Wisconsin/CIMSS

Cyclone Fani barreled ashore in India as a Category 4 storm early Friday, bringing extreme winds and storm surge flooding to the city of Puri and points to the north and east, but a threat looms for a more far-flung location: the Himalayas.

The big picture: This is climbing season on Mt. Everest and other peaks nearby, as dozens of elite — and some not-so-elite — climbers attempt to summit the tallest mountains in the world. Although Fani is tracking toward the northeast, along India's coast toward Kolkata and Bangladesh, the storm is also pushing a surge of moisture-laden air from near the equator toward the Himalayas. This could result in heavy snows that may endanger climbers.

The context: Tropical cyclones have led to disaster in the Himalayas before. In 2014, Tropical Cyclone Hudhud, which also made landfall in eastern India but took a different, more inland track, helped spawn a blizzard in northern India and Nepal.

  • The storm caught climbers on the Annapurna circuit, a popular hiking route separate from the Everest trek, off guard, and killed more than two dozen in the country's worst climbing disaster.

How it works: By pointing a firehose of moisture at the world's tallest peaks, cyclones like Fani can help spawn seemingly incongruous weather disasters, in the form of blizzards that dump feet of snow in a short period of time.

  • This happens because the flow of moisture from the south collides with the east-to-west facing mountain range, forcing the air to rise, cool and condense into clouds and precipitation.
  • This process is known as orographic lift, and it's amplified to a great extent by the mountain range's extraordinary height — with multiple peaks exceeding 20,000 feet above sea level.
  • The snow from Hudhud measured upwards of six feet.
  • According to the New York Times, Nepal has banned helicopters from flying in high mountain areas through the weekend and issued a warning to mountaineers on the mountain regarding the deteriorating weather.

But, but, but: Far more people are in harm's way closer to the storm center, of course, with the sprawling, low-lying city of Kolkata lying just to the east of the weakening storm's path.

  • The main dangers there will be gusty winds, heavy rains and a storm surge that could compound the city's drainage problems. Storm surge flooding could also occur in neighboring Bangladesh, one of the countries most at risk from climate change-related sea level rise with millions residing near sea level.
  • Northeastern India has seen some of the deadliest cyclones in the world. The worst-ever in the state of Odisha was an unnamed cyclone that struck in 1999, killing an estimated 10,000 people.
  • So far, there have only been reports of a handful of deaths from Fani, which indicates that the Indian government's extensive preparations for the intense storm likely saved lives.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

WHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa. Photo: Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

The World Health Organization called on countries Sunday to not impose travel bans on southern African nations amid concerns over the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Why it matters: The U.S. and countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific announced travel restrictions in response to Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa. It's since spread to several European countries, Canada, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong. The WHO noted in a statement that only two southern African nations have detected the new variant.

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

7 hours ago - Health

WHO: Not yet known whether Omicron leads to more severe disease

Photo illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Sunday said that it is not yet clear whether the newly discovered Omicron variant is more transmissible than other strains of the COVID-19 virus.

Why it matters: The agency's statement comes as the variant, discovered in South Africa, has already been detected in European and Asian countries.