News / Science & Technology

    Super-Storm May Be Harbinger of Worse to Come

    Adam Phillips
    Weather experts say that Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines on Friday and is expected to hit the Southeast Asian mainland by Sunday, may turn out to be the most powerful such storm since modern record-keeping began. That has some people wondering if it may be the beginning of a period of more intense and dangerous weather, brought about by climate change.

    Radley Horton, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York, said it is difficult to blame any one storm - even one as powerful as Typhoon Haiyan - on climate change.

    “… But what we can say is that as the climate changes, we’re going to see more of certain types extreme events; our vulnerability is going to go up because of that. As greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, have increased in the atmosphere due to our burning of fossil fuels and land use changes - that’s warming the atmosphere. Some of that heat has gotten into the oceans, has caused the oceans to expand and it causes some of the ice that’s on land to make its way to the ocean. Both of those processes are causing sea levels to rise,” said Horton.

    High seas combined with a typhoon’s powerful winds can create sea surges, which can  flood low-lying islands and coastal areas. Warmer seas also can contribute, though, to the force of a typhoon weather system itself.

    The Suomi NPP satellite captured an incredibly detailed infrared image of Super Typhoon Haiyan's eye as it orbited over the storm at approximately 05:25 UTC on Nov. 7, 2013. (Photo: NASA/NOAA)The Suomi NPP satellite captured an incredibly detailed infrared image of Super Typhoon Haiyan's eye as it orbited over the storm at approximately 05:25 UTC on Nov. 7, 2013. (Photo: NASA/NOAA)
    x
    The Suomi NPP satellite captured an incredibly detailed infrared image of Super Typhoon Haiyan's eye as it orbited over the storm at approximately 05:25 UTC on Nov. 7, 2013. (Photo: NASA/NOAA)
    The Suomi NPP satellite captured an incredibly detailed infrared image of Super Typhoon Haiyan's eye as it orbited over the storm at approximately 05:25 UTC on Nov. 7, 2013. (Photo: NASA/NOAA)
    Adam Sobel, an atmosphere scientist at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, likens the mechanism that drives a typhoon to the gasoline-powered engine that propels an automobile.

    “Your car makes mechanical energy from heat, which it gets by burning fuel. In the case of a typhoon, the heat comes from the warm tropical ocean and it moves up into upper atmosphere, which is cold. And the power that the storm can generate is related to the difference between that warm ocean and the cold upper atmosphere. And as the climate warms, the tropical ocean gets warmer and the upper atmosphere where the cyclone moves heat up to is, if anything, getting colder," he said.

    Sobel said the frequency of typhoons will not necessarily increase with warmer oceans. "But what we do think will happen is that the typhoons we have will get stronger. And so the chance of getting a really powerful one like Haiyan, which is extremely powerful, is reasonably likely to increase.”

    Horton added that there are other elements that might determine the possible strength of future typhoons. “What are the wind patterns going to be like in the atmosphere? What is the temperature profile going to be like in the atmosphere? What's going to happen with the dust in the atmosphere?”

    One conclusion Horton, Sobel and most of their fellow climate scientists share: if humans don’t slow the rate of greenhouse gas emissions, there is a risk seas will rise so much that many coastal areas will be swamped, forcing millions of people to migrate.

    • An aerial image taken from a Philippine Air Force helicopter shows the devastation of the first landfall by typhoon Haiyan in Guiuan, Eastern Samar province, central Philippines, Nov. 11, 2013.
    • Survivors fill the streets as they line up to get supplies in Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines, Nov. 11, 2013.
    • A survivor writes a call for help, Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines, Nov. 11, 2013.
    • Survivors pass by two large boats that were washed ashore by strong waves caused by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban city, Leyte province, central Philippines, Nov. 10, 2013.
    • A resident walks by remains of houses after powerful Typhoon Haiyan slammed into Tacloban city, Leyte province central Philippines on Nov. 9, 2013
    • Survivors assess the damage after super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city, central Philippines, Nov. 9, 2013.
    • Tacloban Airport is covered by debris after powerful Typhoon Haiyan hit Tacloban city, in Leyte province in central Philippines, Nov. 9, 2013.
    • Residents go on their daily business Nov. 9, 2013, following a powerful typhoon that hit Tacloban city, in Leyte province, central Philippines.
    • A fisherman carries his net after making it safely back to shore in the fishing village after a strong winds from Typhoon Haiyan battered Bayog town in Los Banos, Laguna city, south of Manila, Nov. 8, 2013. 
    • A man walks past a tree uprooted by strong winds brought by super Typhoon Haiyan that hit Cebu city, central Philippines, Nov. 8, 2013. 
    • A mother takes refuge with her children as Typhoon Haiyan hits Cebu city, central Philippines, Nov. 8, 2013.

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora