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A few days ago a major typhoon struck the Philippines and then Vietnam, with another smaller storm heading in roughly the same direction. At about the same time, a tropical cyclone hit Somalia and killed at least 100 people there. The United States is not unaffected by the impacts of large tropical storms. There is reason to believe that tragedies like these may become more common or more severe with climate change. We must first address the urgent needs of the people in the affected areas, but it is also true that events like these and the voices of the victims must drive our continued commitment to address climate change preemptively.

Yeb Saño, the Philippines’ negotiator at the UN Climate Talks, found himself in the position of addressing an international body about the damaging effects of climate change while his own family was living in the affected area. We should take our lead from him. When he gave his address to the gathered representatives from around the world, he announced a hunger strike on behalf of his people which he would continue until the UN group completed the job they had convened to do. Saño’s brother, along with his fellow citizens, was occupied with recovering the dead and helping the survivors while Saño himself sought international recognition of the climate crisis; he was moved to say, “The climate crisis is madness.”

The exact nature of future storms is uncertain, but there are four lines of scientific evidence that hurricanes will be more of a problem in the future than they were in the past.

First, sea levels continue to rise, so the same storm ten years from now vs. ten years ago will have significantly greater impact.  Sea level rise was a significant factor with Superstorm Sandy and Katrina, and was likely a factor in the high death toll and extensive damage caused by Haiyan.

Second, large storms are likely to produce more rain over a broader area because a warmer atmosphere contains more moisture; large storms will bring increased inland flooding, a major cause of damage, injury, and death in tropical storms and cyclones.

Third, increased sea temperatures may generate more intense storms.  This seems to have happened with Katrina and Haiyan; the sea surface temperature drives the storm’s formation, but in these two storms the sea was unusually warm at a greater depth, several meters, causing those storms to become much stronger than they otherwise might have been. Recent studies have shown a strong association between sea surface temperatures in the Pacific and the cumulative strength of the storms that happen in a given year.

Fourth, and less certain, is the possibility that there will be more hurricanes and typhoons. One of the best models for predicting past hurricane frequency predicts that this will happen in the future, and by the way, that model predicted the current relatively anemic Atlantic storm season with good accuracy.   Major tropical storms occur with highly varying frequency from year to year, so it is difficult to identify any trend over just a few decades for which there are good records, but the climate models are increasingly accurate and they suggest that globally we can expect an uptick in frequency.

It is often said that it is impossible to link a given weather event with climate change.  This is no longer true, if it ever was.  The typical climate for a region or a season tells us what weather is “normal.” Climate change is pushing us into a new normal; the climate has warmed, there is more energy in the atmosphere, the jet streams have changed their configuration and are thus more likely to stall weather patterns as happened this year in Calgary and Colorado. This is the new climate, and thus, there is a new normal for the weather in any given region or season.  It appears that the new normal is now, and will increasingly be in the future, one with a significantly greater threat of damage, injury, and death from major tropical storms and other severe weather events.

There are many approaches to addressing this problem, but most of them start with one initial step: stop denying the importance and reality of the accepted science of climate change. This is something individuals must do, the media must do, and politicians and policy makers must do.  This is something that must start now, and really, should have started years ago.

Bad storms have always happened. But, to ignore the fact that humans are making them worse is certainly, as Saño put it, “climate madness.”

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Cross posted at the Minnesota Progressive Project and Scienceblogs.com

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Comment Preferences

  •  as our own meteor blades likes to say (6+ / 0-)

    delay is denial... we need the political and economic leaders who do accept the science to start creating policies that treat climate change as the crisis that it is.

    The cold passion for truth hunts in no pack. -Robinson Jeffers

    by Laurence Lewis on Tue Nov 19, 2013 at 03:55:07 PM PST

  •  Jet Stream and Storm Path Change is the Closest (5+ / 0-)

    link of Sandy to climate change, because it was driven inland by a north Atlantic blocking high directly associated with Arctic warming.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Tue Nov 19, 2013 at 04:18:16 PM PST

  •  About to board a plane to the Central Philippines (5+ / 0-)

    for three weeks of being a disaster relief volunteer worker on Bohol island.

    Climate Change isn't some abstract theory to the people here, they are reeling from the effects. 2.5 million people had their lives so severely disrupted they will need food aid for at least 6 months.

    One of the dozens of American relief workers heading into Tacloban City on my flight into Manila yesterday said a team in his NGO already on the ground on Leyte Island had hiked most of the day to reach a community of 600 that hadn't been heard from yet. When they arrived they were told out of the 600 residents 400 were still missing.

    "If Wall Street paid a tax on every “game” they run, we would get enough revenue to run the government on." ~ Will Rogers

    by Lefty Coaster on Tue Nov 19, 2013 at 04:20:18 PM PST

    •  I wonder how accurate a death-toll we'll ever hear (0+ / 0-)

      Aquino and other powerful families have incentives to keep the toll low. The initial estimates of 10,000 seem more likely from what I read of early first-hand reports.

      Thank you for your updates.

  •  Salon posted a good article about the release (3+ / 0-)

    of carbon into the atmosphere due to the large number of downed trees:

    According to a team of U.S. researchers, the enormous number of trees knocked down by the powerful storm will, as they break down, release carbon into the atmosphere. The particular conditions in the Philippines may mean that the amount released could be massive. Phys.org explains:

        In their paper the researchers note that Hurricane Katrina, for example, caused the release of approximately 100 tons of carbon into the atmosphere. The problem with Cyclone Haiyan is likely to be worse for two main reasons: it was a bigger storm covering a wider area and it struck a part of the world that has denser tree cover. The researchers aren’t willing to try to predict how much carbon will eventually be released by all the downed trees, but suggest it could be huge—the carbon released by Katrina, equaled nearly half of all carbon sequestered by trees in the United States annually.

    http://www.salon.com/...

    The article makes the point that global warming is creating a vicious cycle.
  •  Do you have more about sea level rise (0+ / 0-)

    contributing to Katrina and/or Sandy?

    I had not heard that before.

  •  There is no "new normal" (0+ / 0-)

    For we have not arrived at the new equilibrium temperature of the globe, the temperature determined by the equilibrium level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  

    While atmospheric methane and CO2 are increasing (and quite rapidly at that), there can be no "normal" to the weather patterns.  Normal implies "we've seen this before and know what to expect"; mean sea levels, Arctic sea ice, temperatures, winds, these are all in areas that we have never seen before.  And while models are good, they tend to be linear models constructed on past history.  They really aren't set up to predict everything that is to come.  That they could predict hurricane Sandy as well as they did is an achievement that the modelers can be proud of.

    One of the key features of an exponential function is "you haven't seen anything yet".  The change found in previous observations is far smaller than in observations yet to come.  The level of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing exponentially, and the volume of sea ice in the Arctic is decreasing exponentially.  Until the parameters that define the Earth's weather arrive at a new equilibrium, we can't say that this is the "new normal", but we can expect hurricanes like Sandy and Haiyan and tornadoes in November to be more frequent and more intense.   Hang on to your hats, the ride will get bumpier.

    •  Our new normal can't begin until after (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW

      Antarctica finishes melting, 75 or 100 years from now.  Until then, and for a while afterward, things will just get worse.  

      "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." -- Sen Carl Schurz 1872

      by Calamity Jean on Tue Nov 26, 2013 at 04:31:31 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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