Interview: How climate change is bringing deadly cyclones to East Africa

Source(s): Okay Africa

By Aaron Leaf

Interview with Abubakr Salih Babiker, climate expert at the IGAD Climate Prediction and Application Center


Right. So historically scientists who study climate change would be reluctant to say this one storm or this one busy hurricane season, for example, is caused by climate change but now that seems to be changing. Why is that?

So, they are careful in the way they give their statements because for example, a tropical cyclone is a weather event and you cannot blame a weather event on the whole climate because the climate is more long term. But the point here is that it is not one tropical cyclone. Like you cannot say Idai, by itself, is the result of climate change. But with Idai, you can now say that this is the strongest tropical cyclone on record to hit Mozambique and five weeks after that we have another tropical cyclone that is even stronger than that. Then you have another one in Somalia that is the strongest in the record. And you have another case in which two tropical cyclones developed in a region where they never develop in this simultaneous way. So you have a series of events that are rare in their nature and are outliers from the record. And since the basic ingredient is warming, I think there's enough evidence to suggest that climate change is responsible for this kind of weather pattern.


What can the East African region expect in the next 10 years or so in terms of a changing climate?

It is a bit hard to say that without a proper analysis. But if you read the IPCC report they warn against a business as usual scenario. So if we continue burning more fossil fuels and putting more greenhouses in the atmosphere, it will increase the warming. And I really believe that a warmer climate is more susceptible to severe weather events. It will increase this tendency of severe weather events.

If you look at tropical cyclones, in a way they are a mechanism for the system to distribute energy around itself. It's releasing the tension from itself in this violent way. So, with more warming on a system that is rotating, and it is moist—moisture plays a bigger role in releasing latent heat over the ocean—when it is warm over the ocean, the air starts to rise up and then when it goes up it will condense because the upper layers of the atmosphere are a bit colder, so when it condenses it will release huge amounts of heat and that fuels the system. A warmer ocean or a warmer atmosphere will cause more severe weather events.


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