Typhoon Haiyan one of the strongest storms in history

Typhoon Haiyan (NASA photo)

Typhoon Haiyan (NASA photo)

Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines was one of the strongest storms in recorded history. But whether climate change is increasing the frequency of typhoons and hurricanes remains unclear.

Haiyan was the fourth Category 5 storm in the Pacific Basin this year, while the Atlantic has been relatively quiet.  It is widely accepted that sea level rise associated with climate change can lead to greater coastal damage from a storm like Haiyan, and we also know that warmer sea temperatures tend to increase storm intensity.

But it is more complex than that.  For example, as a storm intensifies it may draw up cooler ocean waters from below that lessen the intensity, and prevailing wind patterns and wind shear can spread and weaken a storm.

Many scientists feel the evidence is not there to draw conclusions on the relationship between storms like Haiyan and climate change – particularly for the Pacific Basin, where the historical records are relatively sparse.

Looking at future climate scenarios, the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that, for the Atlantic at least, global warming could increase the prevalence of the strongest storms while the total number of storms may actually decrease.  In any case, what we do know is that many coastal regions will need to prepare for more frequent flood damage from coastal storms due to rising sea levels and increased human populations and infrastructure near the coasts.

See also: Is Haiyan indicative of the new normal in super storms? [CALS Notes, 2013-11-19]

Category: What's With the Weather

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