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

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid