Spanning over 600km with winds of 315km/h and gusts up to 380km/hour, Haiyan is the fourth Category Five cyclone in the western Pacific this year and the fifth across all ocean basins. Typhoon Haiyan is recognized as the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in world, and has come as countries meet in Warsaw for the annual UN climate negotiations.
Professor Stefan Rahmstorf, co-chair of the Earth System Analysis research domain at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research made the following statement:
Haiyan’s unprecedented severity is a prime example of how global warming is loading the dice for disastrous extremes. The death toll from Haiyan is already predicted to hit 10,000 – nearly double the previous record holder, Thelma, in 1991. While The Philippines is no stranger to strong typhoons, Haiyan’s unusual strength has been attributed to above average ocean temperatures, which increases energy and water vapor in the system.
When coupled with sea level rises, strong typhoons are also driving significantly larger and more destructive storm surges. Most of the deaths from Halyan so far are being attributed to the storm surge, which reportedly hit 2.1 meters in some areas.
The lead negotiator from the Philippines, Yeb Sano, took action to bring the plight of his family and fellow Filipinos to the decision-makers gathered in Warsaw. As of Monday November 11th, he is undertaking a voluntary hunger strike in solidarity with those in crisis in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, ”until a meaningful outcome [of climate negotiations] is in sight.”
He dared the plenary hall to “get off your ivory tower and away from the comfort of your armchair” to see first hand the life-and-death consequences of climate change facing people around the world.
Climate negotiator Sano’s hunger strike responds to the catastrophic nature of Typhoon Haiyan.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recent fifth assessment report found only “Low confidence” that intense tropical cyclone and typhoon activity had increased measurably since 1950.
However, while an increase in the number of storms has not been linked with climate change, many scientists agree with Prof. Rahmstorf, believing that stronger storms like Haiyan — with extreme levels of rainfall — are linked to observable increases in sea temperature, as warmer oceans mean extra energy and moisture in the system.
While there is perhaps less certainty amongst climate scientists regarding the influence of climate change on present storms, they’re generally agreed upon outlook for the future of tropical cyclones is quite gloomy. Gabe Vecchi, a research oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told Climate Central.
Working Group II of the IPCC estimates that the world will see an increase in the number of very strong storms by the end of the century, if nations continue business-as-usual and make no emissions reductions. Though scientific modeling to determine the role of climate change in current typhoons may be less conclusive, the modeling that foresees an increase in severe storms by the end of the century should prompt policy makers to reduce emissions now to avoid bringing about such a future.