Cyclone Haiyan

dn24549-1_300Over the last few days we’ve received a stream of information and images about cyclone* Haiyan which devastated central Philippines, especially the city of Tacloban. Zoe Daniels compiled a graphic report for the 7.30 Report program last night. She mentions that they went to see a coastal village where the devastation was complete.

Here’s a photo from the SMH:

Hayan_ leyte169-408x264

Donations can be made through the Philippine Red Cross and Oxfam. Please feel free to post links to other charities in comments.

According to this link you can donate to the Red Cross by via credit card by phoning 1800 811 700. The hyperlink given there is broken.

Dr Jeff Masters’ Wunderblog has a post which reports the damage initially as $14 billion, breaking The Philippines’ record for damages for the third time in 12 months. Initial estimates of the death toll were put in excess of 10,000, but the SMH suggests the toll from Tacloban alone may have exceeded that figure. Some 9 million people have been affected.

The cyclone has been reported as the strongest ever to make landfall. An article in The Guardian quotes Jeff Masters as putting it at number four with the note that NOAA has stated that the maximum sustained winds estimated for typhoons during the 1940s to 1960s were too strong. The other three were in 1958 and 1961. In his linked post above Masters has compiled an unofficial top ten, with Haiyan at the head. Five of the ten were in The Philippines.

There are two aspects where I’d like better information. Firstly, I heard one report that the wind remained at Category 5 intensity for either six or eight hours (can’t remember which). The system was very large. Secondly, I heard of a storm surge of up to eight metres. Apparently this caused more damage than the wind and was responsible for many of the deaths. In many cases only the lowest areas were evacuated.

Inevitably the question is raised as to whether global warming played a part. This SMH article has a useful discussion. In a warmer world the sea surface will be warmer and the atmosphere will hold more water. Cyclone formation depends on the temperature differential between the surface and the upper troposphere, which should also be greater in a warmer world. However, there also needs to be an absence of wind shear at the upper levels, and we don’t know how that is going to work out.

Records in basins other than the North Atlantic don’t go back far enough to establish patterns over time. Let’s say, however, that the dice does seem loaded in favour of some whoppers showing up.

Sea level rise will of course increase the vulnerability to storm surge.

A discussion at Climate Central is cautious, concluding that “the scientific consensus clearly skews toward stronger, wetter, but less frequent tropical cyclones in the coming decades”. However, it points to a recent study by MIT hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel, who used computer models to find that

tropical cyclones are likely to become both stronger and more frequent in the years to come, with a huge jump in storm frequency and intensity in the Northwest Pacific Ocean Basin.

Time will tell.

Jamie Henn at Huffpost uses the cyclone to beat the climate negotiators in Warsaw about the ears as they bicker over details under the fluorescent lights in aircon.

Astonishingly the Polish hosts are using the conference to promote the merits of coal to the extent that they are hosting a World Coal Summit next door. The Philippines too, he tells us, has a coal-centric energy policy.

Certainly if there is an increase in tropical cyclone frequency and/or intensity The Philippines will be in the firing line. Climate Central shows why:


The purple (warmest) and the pink represent the heat available to Haiyan, at depth, not just the surface. I did hear that The Philippines have had 20 cyclones this year, and as I type another seems to be forming. even if it shows up as a rain depression it will not be welcome.

The featured image is from NOAA via the New Scientist

* The terms ‘hurricane’ and ‘typhoon’ mean the same as ‘tropical cyclone’. While cyclones do occur in the temperate and polar regions, the term ‘cyclone’ which I’m using is usually understood as tropical unless otherwise stated in popular parlance.

7 thoughts on “Cyclone Haiyan”

  1. This is a disaster in the order of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

    The Australian government’s donation of $10M. is a start but why not offer the Philippines government the immediate services of the ADF’s 3RAR soldiers ( trained parachutists), especially signallers, medics and pioneers and have them airdropped right into specific isolated villages to help the locals help themselves until the Philippines authorities get on top of this massive disaster and reach them?

    (b.t.w., it is strange that nobody in the media has mentioned that Tacloban was where the Liberation of The Philippines began in 1944)

  2. No political donations from me for the next year, they’ve been converted into a typhoon donation.

  3. This typhoon is nothing really unusual, although that it scored a direct hit on Tacloban is. Even if it reaches the fatality level of 10,000, that’s about the same number as the Great Storm of 1703 in the UK, and a thirtieth of the toll of the great Tonkin Typhoon of 1881.

    The tropical revolving storm (TRS) number and strength is actually on a declining trend, see the NOAA data. The reason this one had such an impact is that it the eye passed right over Tacloban as the TRS reached its peak strength. It was smaller and weaker than Yasi, for example.

    Typhoon Haiphont made landfall in what is now Vietnam, on 8 October 1881. 300,000 people were killed by the typhoon. The Gulf of Tonkin is a body of water between Vietnam, the Chinese Island of Hainan, and Mainland China. It provides one of the most frequently used paths for Pacific typhoons originating near the Philippines to strike the Asian mainland. On October 8, 1881, a monstrous typhoon traveled through the Gulf of Tonkin and devastated Haiphong, Vietnam and the surrounding coastal area. Some 300,000 people lost their lives as the typhoon’s storm surge flooded the low-lying city. Today, the disaster still ranks today among the greatest losses of life from any tropical cyclone worldwide.

  4. On Yasi

    Professor Jonathan Nott from the Australasian Palaeohazards Research Unit with James Cook University agrees.

    Nott says there’s no formal definition for the term super cyclone and only uses it very loosely to describe an extremely powerful event with intensities below 910 hectopascals, a measure of atmospheric pressure.

    “We don’t get those often. The strongest in Queensland was 914 hectopascals Tropical Cyclone Mahina in 1899 which hit north of Cooktown.”

    Its 350 kilometre per hour winds killed over 400 people, the largest death toll in any natural disaster in Australian history.

    “But for Queensland, Yasi is the most intense since Innisfail in 1918.”

    By way of comparison, Haiyan got down to 895hPa which makes it the strongest on record. Yasi was only CAT_4 when it made landfall. One climate scientists said haiyan would have been a “CAT_6” if they had had such a rating.

    Interestingly, Hurricane Katrina measured at Gulfport Missisippi in 2005 was only 966hPa …

    As with tsunamis, the strongest don’t always cause the most havoc. Of course, when they are very strong, and near low lying land and affect densely populated areas with fairly flimsy structures … (and in this case shortly after an earthquake in the area that damged roads and infrastructure) …

    Haiyan brought a massive storm surge as well as the rain and winds at up to 315km/h …

  5. The terms ‘hurricane’ and ‘typhoon’ mean the same as ‘tropical cyclone’.

    Apparently the term ‘hurricane’ is of West Indian origin via the Spanish who adapted the indigenous word for ‘big wind’ (‘arukana’ IIRC). Similarly, in East Asia, the Cantonese word for ‘big wind’ can be rendered in English script as something like ‘daiphong’ — (my Cantonese students confirm this) from which ‘typhoon’ follows.

  6. Once again, many many people in the Philippines have shown tremendous resilience in the face of impossible odds …. but what about the future?

    What will happen to the survivors once the aid teams and the world’s media pack up and go home? Apart from donating money, what else is it that we in Australia can do ourselves that will help good people rebuild their own shattered lives?

    Typhoons come every year so what can be done to prevent future loss of life and destruction of the ability to make a livelihood in other communities in the Philippines?

    Why is it that the news media here talks about the Philippines only when there is a natural disaster or a political squabble? Surely we in Australia deserve to be better informed than that.

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