Ecocentric

Climate Change Didn’t Cause Supertyphoon Haiyan. But the Storm Is Still a Reason to Fight Warming

While scientists can't yet find a clear signal between global warming and killer tropical storms like Haiyan, the supertyphoon could well be a sign of what's to come in a warmer world

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NASA / NOAA

A satellite image shows Supertyphoon Haiyan over the Philippines

Some 6,000 miles away from the Philippines, where 10,000 people or more may have been killed by Supertyphoon Haiyan, the Filipino diplomat Yeb Sano rose today in Warsaw to address the international delegates at the opening session of the annual U.N. summit on climate change. In an emotional speech, Sano connected the devastation from Haiyan — quite possibly the strongest storm ever recorded upon landfall — and the intensifying threat of climate change:

Typhoons such as Yolanda (Haiyan) and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to procrastinate on climate action. Warsaw must deliver on enhancing ambition and should muster the political will to address climate change.

In Doha, we asked, “If not us then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?” (borrowed from Philippine student leader Ditto Sarmiento during Martial Law). It may have fell on deaf ears. But here in Warsaw, we may very well ask these same forthright questions. “If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here in Warsaw, where?”

What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness.

Sano was hardly the only one to connect the unimaginable power of Haiyan with global warming. U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change head Christiana Figueres, who will help oversee the Warsaw talks, said the typhoon was part of the “sobering reality” of global warming. The sheer power of Haiyan, as well as the still uncounted human devastation it has wrought, all but assures that the supertyphoon will become a symbol of climate change for years to come, just as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy have.

But how much of a role did current climate change actually play in the making of Haiyan? That’s less clear.


(MORE: As Tropical Storm Karen Dissipates, the Debate Grows Over a Quiet Hurricane Season)

The warming of air and sea temperatures — which is well under way — should on the whole give more power to tropical cyclones, in part because warmer air can hold more water vapor. But the reality is that the science around increasing greenhouse-gas emissions and tropical cyclones has become muddier in recent years. (Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons are all tropical cyclones — the name just refers to where in the world they form, with tropical cyclones in the Pacific being called typhoons.) The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in September, found that there was “low confidence in attribution of changes in tropical cyclone activity to human influence” so far. The report also had “low confidence” that there would be increases in intense tropical-cyclone activity over the next few decades, and found that it was “more likely than not” that such a signal would be seen by the end of the 21st century.

In IPCC speak, “more likely than not” means a 50% or higher probability, and it’s a step back from the IPCC’s 2007 climate-change assessment, when the scientific group found that it was “likely” that future tropical cyclones would become more intense with global warming. (Likely in IPCC speak means a probability of 66% or above, and no, I don’t know why it requires a glossary to decode IPCC-speak.) That change, along with the robust scientific debate around the connection between climate change and tropical-cyclone strength and frequency, has to do with conflicting studies as well as poor historical data around tropical cyclones — especially in the less studied Pacific — which makes it hard to judge whether storms really have been getting worse as the planet has warmed. Even in places where the IPCC is much more certain that tropical cyclones have been getting more stronger and more frequent in recent decades, like the North Atlantic, scientists disagree on exactly why that’s happening.

Still, if existing climate change played a role in supercharging Haiyan, it’s likely tiny, as NASA climatologist Bill Patzert told the Pasadena Star-News:

The fingerprint is very small, if at all. If the winds are 200 mph, global warming might have contributed 5 mph to that 200 mph.

(MORE: Climate Change Could Make Hurricanes Stronger — and More Frequent)

The reality is that it remains extremely difficult to attribute specific weather events to climate change, and such attribution studies take time. It seems likely Haiyan would have been nearly as destructive whether or not the planet had warmed over the past century. It’s true that sea-level rise will have added to the massive storm surges that seem to have been the real killers in Haiyan. Seas have been rising significantly faster in the Philippine Sea, where Haiyan struck, than the world on average. The higher seas would have worsened flooding, just as sea-level rise amplified the damage from Superstorm Sandy, but given the fact that Haiyan’s storm surges were as much as 20 ft., climate-driven sea-level rise wouldn’t have been the deciding factor in the supertyphoon’s devastation.

But if it’s virtually impossible to blame Haiyan on current climate change, that doesn’t mean that future climate change — including the warming we’ve already baked into the system — won’t make future Haiyans more likely. Climate scientists are the opposites of weathermen — the further out they’re asked to forecast, the more confidence they tend to have in their predictions. Models point to stronger, if not necessarily more frequent tropical cyclones as the globe continues to warm, though that signal may not become clear until later in the 21st century.

And of course there’s debate over that as well — see this July paper by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology climatologist Kerry Emanuel, which predicted that the frequency and the intensity of tropical cyclones would increase in the 21st century, and that the increases would be most prominent in the western North Pacific, which is where Haiyan struck. The back-and-forth over today’s storms shouldn’t obscure the fact that climate change will bring an assortment of dangers, possibly including more powerful storms — which is one more reason why we need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while building a world that is more resilient to extreme weather. That’s especially true for poor, geographically exposed countries like the Philippines, which is already one of the most vulnerable nations in the world to climate change.

Delegates at over 190 countries will be meeting in Warsaw over the next two weeks to do just that, although expectations for the international climate talks are even dimmer than usual. (As the veteran climate-talks expert Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists put it: “Never have the stakes been higher with expectations so low.”) In the meantime, what the Philippines needs now, more than action at Warsaw, is help on the ground — and in the future, foreign aid that can help build resistance to extreme weather, which can make the difference between a weather disaster and a human catastrophe.

MORE: A Silent Hurricane Season Adds Fuel to a Debate Over Global Warming

60 comments
InterestInMaths
InterestInMaths

Oh Well give you all more time to watch more intensity and frequency and you will turn about on your heels..  All who say "no" climate change is nothing to do with global weird weather systems and storm activity? Oh well you have MUCH to LEARN. 

JamesReynolds
JamesReynolds

For THOUSANDS of years, he Native American Indians lived in harmony WITH nature...then in the 1600's,  the white man came to America from Europe &  he has been messing things up ever since...

I mean, it pretty bad when entire towns here in America have to be relocated or abandoned by its residents because corporate America has polluted their town beyond repair.   

JamesReynolds
JamesReynolds

I think that with the human race polluting this planet the way we  do, it should be obvious that climate change is either directly or indirectly, related to what the human race is doing. 

We are polluting this planet, the ONLY  home we have, faster than nature can clean it up...we humans are far to greedy and/or far too lazy, to clean up after ourselves.

I also think that this is not even the beginning of what is yet to come....The Super Hurricane that blasted the Philippines is nothing compared to how big & bad the future hurricanes will get.

I suspect that super storms like Haiyan, will grow to the point of being the same size, or bigger, than all of Europe, and/or all of North America.

I think when the doo-doo really hits the fan, it will be like the scenario in the movie "THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW", where none of the world's leaders wanted to listen to how the climate was changing for the worst UNTIL it was too late to do anything to stop it...

And from what I have seen, and read, the world leaders are doing the EXACT same thing as  they did in the movie.

I can only hope that my grandchildren are long dead & buried before the climate gets anywhere near as bad as in the movie.

ColinVSmith
ColinVSmith

The connexion between global warming and the increasing power and frequency of tropical storms, which are fuelled by heat, is so obvious and scientifically attested that anyone who 'can't find a clear signal' is clearly looking the other way, and may safely be ignored. 

RoseStorz
RoseStorz

Well, the explanation was very clear that CLIMATE CHANGE played a role in supercharging Haiyan. Another explanation above is logic that our planet had warmed over the past century. Also, the seas have been rising significantly and in the Philippines Seas the sea level have been rising faster than the world average.

JamesReynolds
JamesReynolds

@RoseStorz 

I read  an article where an entire island full of local Natives, had to leave their island, because the ocean water was taking over the island...the island was in the South Pacific if my memory serves me correctly....

If this keeps up, we will all be living in houseboats or aboard ships of some kind.


LynelRabago
LynelRabago

Saying that climate change did not cause super typhoon Haiyan is like saying climate did not cause the weather. Just as you can't definitively attribute which part of the typhoon is due to climate change, you cannot definitively say the two are unrelated. They are so intricately entwined, that science will take decades to figure out the puzzle. But did climate change (and therefore, humans) help shape super typhoon Haiyan? Yes, absolutely without a doubt.

RevColDale
RevColDale

Ok; I know that this will not be popular ; BUT is it possible that HARP is still in operation ? Don't know what HARP is ,  check it out on your search engines.

This wouldn't be the first time that HARP was connected to a sever weather condition in that part of the world. IN this day and age ... anything is possible.


savestheworldSE
savestheworldSE

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Hello, The Fundraising Foundation Saves The Worlds Philippine representatives lives in the areas who have suffered the worst by Haiyan, our female representative Ivona M. Carcedo lives in Cebu region, and her fiance Brent L. Mausisa who lived in what once was Tacloban City.

Ivona has provided her personal story on the events from her point of view, you can read it on Saves The Worlds blog here: http://blog.savestheworld.se/the-worlds-deadliest-super-typhoon-haiyan-and-its-destruction/

We hope that this will give you all a deeper understanding of the actual events and situation there when you read this personal story!

Please share it with others!

Much thanks from the board of directors in Saves The World Foundation!

jfreed27
jfreed27

The title of the article is deceptive.  Who said climate change had nothing to do with this Superstorm?  

I'd love to know what went on in the editorial decision to put such a lame title on this article.  Was is a phone call from an influential backer, was it simply hand-wringing fear that they might offend deniers?  Was it a wishful thinking? 

 Time has had a conservative bias for as long as I have read it. Now, it is fatal.

JohnWhitehurst
JohnWhitehurst

Yammer yammer. we can stop this right here right now?

How much is it going to cost for this to stop?  Philippines Oh 10 Billion a year and we think it will go away RIGHT, now for the rest of you third world countries how much?

These storms are not new that 50 years ago the populationwas approx 30 million and is now 150 million would not have any effect right. An ant farts and some camera crew is there and it is atributed to globa warming. Ever heard of Lanina

ChrisGolledge
ChrisGolledge

@JohnWhitehurst I wish we could.  The most expensive alternatives currently cost about 1.5 times what fossil fuel energy costs.  The FF industry represents about 7% of the US GDP.  It is very likely that as economies of scale come into play the cost of alternatives will become less; so, we are looking at a maximum cost of 3% of GDP to switch to alternatives.  The results vary, but in general we are looking at about 20% reduction in agricultural yields per degree of warming, and BAU will easily take us to 4 degrees of warming by 2100.  So, by 2100 we can have a 3% loss of GDP or an 80% loss in food supply.  Take your pick.

ChrisGolledge
ChrisGolledge

Err John, during La Nina ocean surface temperatures are cooler than average, and cooler temperatures means weaker storms.

jfreed27
jfreed27

Superstorm Haiyan formed over warmer ocean waters. These waters contain more moisture than decades ago.

Why?   For years, CO2 has been trapping solar radiation, adding about 1-2 watt/square meter to the balance.  This is the equivalent of 4 Hiroshima atomic bombs/second extra energy to our planet- for years.

The article gives support to the contribution of AGW to this Superstorm, whereas the title of the article does not, 

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck

IvanLlaneta
IvanLlaneta

"...in the future, foreign aid that can help build resistance to extreme weather, which can make the difference between a weather disaster and a human catastrophe."

Can anyone really be resistant to nature? Pipe dreams. As much as the Philippines need help now, it is also imperative you do your jobs there in Warsaw.

Science is not the only way to prove if it is real or not, because there is this part in science where if you do not have the proper methodology nor mechanisms to measure an instance when you would always have an inconclusive result. So why rely on science, when we can always use reasoning first?

We can always go back in the measured timeline when the changes started occurring and revert from that point. Even if we do not how it happens, we know it happens, and even if we don't actually know the causes we have eliminated it.

And think from that reversal, we can actually objectively observe what the probable causes are. This is just with reasoning, and science can come after.

Science is not the be all and end all.

Jeffus
Jeffus

@IvanLlaneta  Very true. Maybe just going back to basic principles is good enough. When my Mom told me to keep my room clean, I didn't ask her for scientific proof. I realised that keeping it clean was good and right. If we related to the environment in the same way, we would obviously not want industrial and other pollutants in the water, ground  and air... so the most sensible thing is to take action, and let scientists carry on with their arguments for the next hundred years...  

kagbalete
kagbalete

@JeromeQuejano   man made???  you might as well claim that it was Thor and his hammer which caused haiyan....

MarkGoldes
MarkGoldes

The attacks on my post reflect outright lies, half-truths, distortions and apparently fear that a prototype engine will demonstrate it is possible to circumvent The Second Law of Thermodynamics.

When the prototype has been validated by independent labs it may cause a perpetual commotion.


MarkGoldes
MarkGoldes

@GaryRMcCray @MarkGoldes

QUESTION DOGMA, question ideology, question outside authority. It is only by questioning what people take for granted, what people hold to be true, that we can break through the hypnosis of social conditioning. Deepak Chopra

Over the last 15 years the absolute status of the second law of thermodynamics has come under increased scrutiny. More than two dozen distinct challenges have appeared in the refereed scientific literature—more than the sum total over the previous 150 years—raising the possibility that the second law might soon be shown violable in laboratory experiments.NOTE: The Second Law has now been proven violable in experimental work en-route to publication. MG

This talk (surveyed) recently proposed challenges from a number of research groups around the world, focusing on those most amenable to laboratory test. Possible ramifications of second law violation (were) discussed, the most significant of which might be the recyclability of environmental heat into usable work. The thermal energy content of the atmosphere, ocean, and upper crust is estimated to be more than 10,000 times that of the world's fossil fuel reserves, making it a potentially inexhaustible reservoir of green energy.

“Challenges to the Second Law of Thermodynamics: Theory and Experiment” V. Capek and D.P. Sheehan; Fundamental Theories of Physics, Vol. 146 (Springer, Dordrecht, The Netherlands) 2005.
“Quantum Limits to the Second Law” D.P. Sheehan, Editor; AIP Conference Proceedings, Vol. 643 (AIP, Melville, NY) 2002.
Daniel P. Sheehan University of San Diego

http://www.scientificexploration.org/talks/29th_annual/29th_annual_sheehan_experimental_challenges_second_law_thermodynamics.htmlThe second law is in jeopardy.” D. Sheehan

GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

@MarkGoldes 

You are a vile evil person, clearly acting as a carnival barker to a not very well informed public to extract money from them with with stories you know to be utterly without merit.

In this universe, physics is what it is and you already knew the fatal flaw of each of your claims before you made them.

Your intent from the start is to deceive and profit, you are nothing but a thief.

And you discredit honest scientists everywhere by your ongoing charlatanism.

You know too much to be doing this through ignorance, you are a modern Snake Oil salesman.

Go Away!

GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

@MarkGoldes @GaryRMcCray 

I never doubted your ability to sell Snake Oil, I only completely doubt that you do not indeed know it is Snake Oil.

Scientists and current theories are often proven wrong or at least superseded by newer more encompassing theories Relativity for example, but the people who do that are not invested in promoting concepts they already knew were without merit.

You are. 

You are way too intelligent to be doing this ignorantly, therefore the only conclusion that can be drawn is that you are doing it on purpose.

Whether doing it for notoriety or for profit or in your case likely both, the intent is clearly to deceive, not to inform or to learn and that is just selfish and evil.

You are without merit.

I will not respond to you again as you do not have sufficient merit for me to consider responding to.

MarkGoldes
MarkGoldes

@GaryRMcCray @MarkGoldes As it happens you are mistaken on all counts.

I have known the inventor of this engine for a couple of decades. He has devoted years of lab work and study to The Second Law of Thermodynamics.  He holds an earlier Patent that demonstrates it can be circumvented, however that engine proved impractical. 

After the work of Jacob Wainwright came to his attention a few months ago, he concluded that it opened a practical design. That is the prototype in process. If, as he expects, it proves that atmospheric heat can replace fuel in engines with commercial potential, the work in my opinion, might deserve a Nobel Prize. Since the Nobel is more likely to go to an academic it would not surprise me if one is awarded to Daniel Sheehan.

The inventor believes that had Wainwright been taken seriously, engines which needed no fuel could have been produced 100 years ago. 

The human lives lost over oil in the interim may prove a sad commentary on the failure of scientists to perform experiments instead of condemning those who do so.





GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

Your title is misleading, in fact you support that there is no clear evidence that Global Warming directly caused it, not that it might have been at least partly responsible for it's timing and intensity.

The simple fact of the matter is that Global warming isn't about things just warming up a bit.

Our weather is driven by Coriolis force and heat, basically weather is a heat engine.

As the planet heats up one of the very widely agreed on consequences is that there will be more severe weather and it will be more severe.

In the US the number of storms hitting the center and east coast has been unprecedented previously.

Were these caused by global warming, possibly not, but likely they were made worse by global warming.

The planet is getting warmer, the ice is melting and the weather is changing - global warming is real and your title that indicates this typhoon was unrelated is irresponsible and as unjustified as saying it was totally the consequence of global warming.

ForTheMusic2
ForTheMusic2

The Earth has a cycle..the sun has a cycle..EVERY planet has a cycle. The earth is in a normal cycle. This global warming stuff is just a way to scare the masses so the government can control everyone much easier!

IvanLlaneta
IvanLlaneta

@ForTheMusic2 Everything has a cycle, and death is part of every cycle. Thank you for pointing out cycles.

HenriJakes
HenriJakes

@ForTheMusic2You mutt! ...... AND the CARBON cycle, which us humans are eating, altering and affecting! Ask 99% of the Professors of Science or Geography.  Not the ones receiving payouts from Oil companies. Stop listening to music and get an education

Jeffus
Jeffus

@HenriJakes @ForTheMusic2  So should we be allowed to change that cycle, or rather try to maintain the cycle as it was. ?  Specially, since we are very weak at predicting how the cycle we change will progress...

ChrisGolledge
ChrisGolledge

@ForTheMusic2 Yes, the earth has natural cycles. We are currently in the cooling phase of that cycle and should still be for the next 10-20 thousand years.  Why do you think the planet is getting warmer?

cusslightly
cusslightly

"have been getting more stronger and more frequent"

editing has been getting more weaker, making things more harder to read

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

YOU can't believe it WILL be a crisis until science stops agreeing it only COULD be a crisis.

SurelookHomes
SurelookHomes

There is only one single reason for those to rebuke climate change, MONEY. Pure and simple, MONEY. The conservatives base every single agenda, every single vote and every single opinion on the flow of money and greed. If any given subject or FACT obstructs the flow of money they are going to ATTACK that subject. If the color is white and the color white is going to affect the bottom line the conservatives will tell you it is black, they swear to the world who sees the color white that it is actually black. Do you want to hear the most astonishing thing about this scenario....about 405 of Americans will believe them, is that just the craziest crap you have ever heard. These are the same people that go around saying how much they love the military and then cut billions of dollars from veterans so that they don't have to raise corporate taxes...Are you hearing this, they are going to further perpetuate our veterans suffering to protect those who have it better than anyone else on the planet. The men and women who gave their lives, their limbs and their mental stability for our safety and Freedom and yet they still refuse to even raise taxes on the rich to save our veteran benefits....and tomorrow they are going to point the finger at the Liberals and Independents telling people that we are not Patriotic and 40 % of Americans will fall for it...We are the real Patriots, we really care about our troops, we really care if they eat, if they die, if they have to go to war for an immoral reason...we are the compassionate, we are the Democrats and Independents and it's high time we are giving our due and the conservatives get their kick in the pants.