Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda

On Friday, what might have been the strongest land falling tropical system in recorded history hit the Philippines with 195 mph sustained winds and 235 mph gusts, according to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center's satellite estimates three hours before landfall.  Just to put that in perspective, the sustained winds are similar to what you might find in an EF 4 tornado, which we might be a bit more familiar with here in the middle of the country, and there they were in a large super typhoon.  (Of course the EF scale is meant to be more of a damage scale than a wind scale, but it is still an interesting perspective.)

Remember, typhoon is the northern portion of the west Pacific's name for what we call hurricanes in the eastern Pacific and Atlantic.   Super Typhoon Haiyan, aka Yolanda, contained winds 40 mph greater than the threshold for a category 5 storm.  It is hard to fathom!  The strongest winds can be found in the eye wall, which can be seen below, and in this case of a fast, westward moving system, on the north side of the eye due to the vector wind addition of the movement of the storm combined with the rotational winds of the storm.  One of the few highly populated areas on this island was Tacloban City, which got the brunt of the winds from the storm, and obviously, a significant storm surge.  Recovery efforts continue. 

I used to work at the SSEC in Wisconsin and appreciate their disseminating this animated .gif for us to enjoy.
Finally, because I teach our Global Climate Change course, I am familiar with the typical postmortem conversation that exists after all extreme weather events an the relationship to anthropogenic global warming.  The extremely fast paced global warming we have seen in the last 50 years is mostly due to human activities, as was once again spelled out for us in the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that came out about a month ago.   (I prefer the Summary for Policymakers.)  Because of this, we now are living in a new normal.  Each storm system has a fingerprint of global warming on it.  I actually really enjoyed Jeff Masters' discussion of this over at Weather Underground:

I've blogged extensively about the links between hurricanes, typhoons, and climate change, most recently in my August 2013 post, Hurricanes and Climate Change: Huge Dangers, Huge Unknowns. Since hurricanes are heat engines that take heat energy from the oceans and convert it to the energy of their winds, rising ocean temperatures due to global warming should make the strongest storms stronger, though the poor quality and relatively short length of the global database of hurricanes and typhoons make it difficult to tell if this has already begun to occur. Hurricane scientists expect to see a 2% - 11% increase in the intensity of hurricanes and typhoons (aka tropical cyclones) by 2100. 
In fact this drove the climate delegate from the Philippines who is attending the policy discussions in Warsaw to proclaim he will fast until we come up with a binding international agreement to reduce global warming.  The Kyoto Protocol expired on January 1st, 2013 and there is currently no binding agreement, just a bunch of good intentions.  (Note that the United States never participated in the original protocol or came up with an equivalent U.S. policy.)  In fact we discussed the graph below in class today.  Although everyone and all countries pollute carbon emissions, some are more responsible for the problem than others.  Without the U.S. and China on board to make some big changes, the global warming will surpass safe levels of warming.  Although given the recent events, maybe we already have? 

Fossil Fuel Emissions