Unsurprisingly, I was a massive weather geek growing up. I remember watching the weather channel for fun (feel free to take the micky out of me for this). But out of all the eye-catching stories they showed, I was always intrigued by hurricanes.
In Michigan, hurricanes were never a threat, so I never understood the strength that they could hold until I experienced one myself in Tokyo. On September 9th, 2019 Typhoon Faxai barrelled straight through the city center in the middle of the night. Me being me, I was up at 4am to see the rain and the wind for myself and almost immediately after stepping out of the door I was drenched from the bucketing rain.
Now luckily, I was sheltered inside the city away from the brute strength of the 100+ km/h winds. Outside of the city, buildings were destroyed, cars were flipped and downed powerlines left people without power for days. With just this one Typhoon, Japan was left with $10 billion USD in damages.
Earlier that year on the other side of the world, Mozambique had been experiencing a period of excess rain which led to extensive flooding across the Buzi River area. The region was in dire need of a dry spell, but Cyclone Idai was on the horizon. The local government refused to prepare the shipping port appropriately and the flooding didn’t have a chance to ease before the storm made landfall. Not only was the damage extraordinary for the region, the port was also destroyed, preventing much needed aid from reaching its destination. Approximately 1,297 people died and over 3 million people were impacted from the flood and cyclone combo, as well as from disease that begun to fester through the standing water. From this one event alone, total damages added up to $2 billion USD.
False-color satellite imagery of flooding (depicted in red) in Mozambique on 19 March in the region where Idai made its second landfall. Wikipedia
With the impacts of a warming atmosphere, there comes question as to how this is impacting the earth’s hurricanes and cyclones. Are they becoming stronger or more frequent? The answers lie in the dynamics of how they form.
With warmer waters, the offers more moisture as well as heat to fuel the overhead storm. As discussed in previous blog posts, with convective clouds (such as thunderstorms and hurricanes) warm air is brought up high into the atmosphere where it then cools and falls before warming up and starting the cycle again; this is how clouds can get so tall. But with more heat and more moisture in the air, this does act as a form of fuel for the storm, which can impact the overall strength and intensity.
Another aspect to storm intensity involves another factor we’ve discussed before—the Clausius Clapeyron relationship, which is a fancy term which shows how the capacity of the atmosphere increases to hold more water per degree of warming. If the atmosphere has more room for water molecules to build up, there’s going to be that much more rain to drop out of the sky.
There are other characteristics that scientists are looking into such as storm speed (slower movement is causing a higher risk of floods in impacted areas) and storm range. The latter could be devastating for regions that aren’t particularly adapted to cyclonic impacts. For example, the east coast of the United States could see hurricanes travel more north, like Hurricane Sandy that hit New York City in 2012 and cost the country $68.7 billion USD.
As the impacts of climate change become more and more apparent, we could be seeing a shift in intensity and movement of cyclones around the world. The cost to human life and global economics will be the most visible impact for us (humanity), but we need to remember that these storms impact flora and fauna as well.
In this post, I specifically have not discussed Hurricane Ida, which recently hit the southern portion of the United States, as to leave time for more information to come through. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s anniversary, this post is to bring awareness to the impacts upon cyclones and cyclonic impacts on us.
My thoughts rest with all those who have been impacted.