Over 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:
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.