Welcome to the Age of the Superstorm

Illustration for article titled Welcome to the Age of the Superstorm

Almost exactly one year after Hurricane Sandy hit the U.S. eastern seaboard, the strongest typhoon in recorded history has slammed into the Philippines. That's two superstorms in two years. It's the new normal, folks — and climate change is likely to blame.

"Super Typhoon" Haiyan swept through the Philippines last night. Officials haven't been able to make contact with many of the affected areas, so the extent of the damage, or how many people have been injured or killed, is still not clear. But it's looking ugly.

Illustration for article titled Welcome to the Age of the Superstorm

AP Photo/Nelson Salting.

What is known, however, is that this is the strongest cyclone of the year — and quite possibly of all time. It's the most powerful tropical typhoon to have ever reached land — and the numbers are absolutely staggering. According to the U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center, Haiyan produced sustained winds of 167 mph (269 km/h) with gusts reaching 201 mph (324 km/h).

The previous record belonged to Hurricane Camille of 1969, which made landfall in Mississippi with 190 mph (305 km/h) winds. Sandy, with its massive 1,100 mile (1,800 km) sprawl, sustained winds of 80 mph (130 km/h).

In addition to its power, Haiyan was remarkable in that the walls of the storm that rotate around the eye were not replaced as it moved. This typically occurs in typhoons, which has the affect of weakening wind speed.


As for the link to climate change, experts theorize that a plentiful supply of typhoon-fueling warm ocean waters, low atmospheric wind shear, and generous amounts of warm and moist air surrounding these storms are to blame. As Simon Redferm recently noted,

The recent IPCC report on climate change highlighted the risks associated with changes in the patterns and frequency of extreme weather events. While individual storms such as Haiyan cannot be directly attributed to such changes, the statistics of such storms will help build a picture of how climate change is affecting the planet. Climatologists are keen to develop models that provide accurate risk factors for tropical cyclones.

As the planet and particularly the oceans heat, simple physics indicates that the energy stored is likely to increase the intensity and frequency of devastating storms like Haiyan, at great cost to coastal communities.


And indeed, some government authorities say climate change is increasing the ferocity and frequency of typhoons, though some scientists say it's premature to reach this conclusion.


What's clearer, however, is that sea level rise from global warming escalates the risk posed by storm surges across the globe — including low-lying areas of the Philippines.

Just ask Americans living along the East coast.

Image: NOAA.

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Even kooks like Art Bell and Whitley Strieber were sounding the alarm bells about global warming causing superstorms over a decade ago.

I guess even a broken clock is right twice a day.