Impacts of super typhoons and climate change
Tropical cyclones, also known as typhoons or hurricanes, are among the most violent weather events, causing high costs and losses in any area. The Philippines is one of the most typhoon impacted countries globally, with about 20 tropical cyclones traversing the country’s area of responsibility each year.
On 16 December 2021, super typhoon Rai, locally known as Odette, made its landfall in the Philippines, bringing torrential rains, violent winds, floods, and storm surges to the Visayas and Mindanao Islands (Philippines Super Typhoon, 2021).
Super Typhoon Odette left thousands of families homeless, reversing some significant economic and social progress that the Philippine government has made from its Covid-19 recovery. It has caused widespread damages to houses, public infrastructure, and power and telecommunications services in over seven provinces across the Philippines.
Reliefweb provides data on the damages that super typhoon Odette brought to the country. As of 6 January 2022, there are 407 typhoon-related deaths, 7.3 million people affected, and 2.4 million in need of humanitarian assistance.
Studies linking super typhoons and extremes events to climate change
Integrated Disaster Science and Management: Global Case Studies in Mitigation and Recovery published in 2018 state a strong scientific consensus that anthropogenic climate change is contributing to stronger typhoons. This is due to higher sea surface temperatures and higher subsurface sea temperatures which removes the natural buffer on typhoon strength that colder water from below the ocean’s surface causes. Sea-level rise resulting from climate change will also worsen the effects of these strong typhoons. The Philippines is becoming more vulnerable to stronger cyclones with its rapidly growing population.
The World Meteorological Organization states that weather-related disasters increased by a factor of five in the last 50 years, driven by climate change. But thanks to improved early warnings and disaster management, the number of deaths has decreased by almost three-fold.
Chapter six of the IPPC report shows a list of extreme events linked to ocean and cryosphere changes due to climate change. These extreme events happened between 1998 to 2017 across all regions in the world. Included in the list is Super Typhoon Haiyan, a category five storm that hit the Philippines in 2013, the deadliest and most expensive natural disaster in the Philippines so far. The report attributed this event to the ocean heat content, and sea levels that have increased since 1998 due to the negative Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) phase, but thermodynamic effects on extreme sea surface temperatures (SSTs), sea-level rise and storm surges due to climate change worsened its impacts.
The 2016 study, “Intensification of landfalling typhoons over the northwest Pacific since the late 1970s“, found that landfalling typhoons in the East and Southeast Asian countries have intensified by 12-15%, with the proportion of storms of categories 4 and 5 doubled or tripled in number.
With climate change intensifying storms and cyclones and increasing their frequency, there is a pressing need to adapt, especially in developing countries and areas more vulnerable to extreme events.
The video below is a compilation of videos taken in various areas in the Philippines that Super Typhoon Odette affected. The threats and dangers that super typhoons pose highlight the importance of preparing and building resilience against extreme events.
A report from the World Meteorological Organization shows the global distribution of disasters and impacts by hazards (floods from riverine and general floods cause 44%, and 17% is associated with tropical cyclones). The report also shows the regional breakdown of natural hazards and associated deaths and economic losses.
Studies show that intense cyclones, storms, and typhoons are increasing due to the warming climate and will continue for the foreseeable future. Averting the escalation of the most severe natural events can be done through rapid decarbonisation of our economy and society and the deployment of local adaptation strategies.
The IPCC report states that for tropical cyclones and extratropical cyclones or those forming in the mid-latitude (usually between 30 to 60 degrees latitude from the equator) or known simply as “depressions” or “lows”, investment in disaster risk reduction, flood management both ecosystem-based or engineered ones, and early warning systems decrease economic loss. Still, limited local capacities may hinder these investments in less developed countries despite adaptation efforts. Managing these changing storm trajectories and intensities can also be challenging due to the difficulties of early warning and the receptivity of the affected populations (Collins et al., 2019).