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Philippines link devastating Super Typhoons to climate change; pleas for world to end the "madness"

"Anyone who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare them pay a visit to the Philippines right now" -- Naderev Saño, head of the Philippines delegation speaking at the current UN climate talks in Poland

Last Thursday a record smashing "hellstorm" called Super Typhoon Haiyan tore across the Philippines leaving unprecedented destruction in its wake.

For the second year in a row the Philippines find themselves at the annual United Nations climate conference pleading with the world to take effective action to halt the climate crisis that they say is punishing their nation.

Last year at the UN climate conference in Doha, the Philippines were struggling to cope with the aftermath of Typhoon Bopha. At the time it was the most destructive typhoon in their history causing $1.7 billion in damages and killing hundreds. Their lead climate negotiator, Naderev Saño, broke down in tears as he said:

"... we have never had a typhoon like Bopha … I appeal to all, please, no more delays, no more excuses. Please, let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around. Please, let 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to find the will to take responsibility for the future we want. I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?"

Just eight months later an even more damaging typhoon, Trami, swamped the Philippines' capital city of Luzon causing a new record of $2.2 billion in damages.

And now, less than three months after that Super Typhoon Haiyan is predicted to rewrite the record books again. Current estimates are that the storm killed a record 10,000 people and inflicted a stunning $15 billion in economic damage. Half a million people have lost their homes and very few were insured. Once again Mr. Saño finds himself pleading with the world to act on the growing climate threat, this time at the UN climate conference in Warsaw, Poland:

"The initial assessment shows that Haiyan left a wake of massive devastation that is unprecedented, unthinkable and horrific, affecting two–thirds of the Philippines, with about half a million people now rendered homeless ...

What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw.

We can take drastic action now to ensure that we prevent a future where super typhoons are a way of life. Because we refuse, as a nation, to accept a future where super typhoons like Haiyan become a fact of life. We refuse to accept that running away from storms, evacuating our families, suffering the devastation and misery, having to count our dead, become a way of life. We simply refuse to."

I strongly recommend reading his full speech in the Guardian to get a sense for how climate change has become a serious threat to many of the people of the planet.

Haiyan's rampage

Experts have described Super Typhoon Haiyan as the "strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall in world history." Haiyan (also known as Yolanda in the Philippines) packed record-setting sustained wind speeds of 315 kilometers per hour (kph) just before hitting land.

Wind gusts before landfall exceeded 370 kph. The top wind speed over land won't be known exactly because the storm ripped the area's newly installed weather radar off its tower.

Haiyan's winds had the force of a powerful tornado exploding windows, shredding trees to splinters, blowing buildings to pieces and sending deadly debris flying in all directions (see video at the bottom of this article). And then came Haiyan's storm surge. The 600 km wide typhoon pushed a "tsunami-like" wall of ocean water up to 20 feet high into coastal villages and cities. Few buildings on earth can survive intact this kind of attack.

U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy flying over the devastation told USA Today:

"I don't believe there is a single structure that is not destroyed or severely damaged in some way — every single building, every single house".

The Red Cross reported to CNN "bodies in the water, bodies on the bridges, bodies on the side of the road." Many of the unclaimed dead were children. Survivors are begging for food, for water and for help burying corpses festering in the hot sun.

"nothing we have ever experienced"

If any nation understands typhoons it is the Philippines. They get hit by more of them than any nation on earth. Just take a look at this map put together by blogger Christopher Burt showing tropical storm paths for the last 25 years. I've highlighted the area of Philippines island chain in red because it is hidden by the mass of storm tracks:

Image credit: Christopher Burt at Weather Underground

Mr. Saño says that even for his nation which is so used to typhoons, Haiyan was off-the-charts brutal:

Despite the massive efforts that my country had exerted in preparing for the onslaught of this monster of a storm, it was just a force too powerful and, even as a nation familiar with storms, Haiyan was nothing we have ever experienced before, or perhaps nothing that any country has ever experienced before.

"getting stronger and stronger"

Dr. Romulo A. Virola, the head of the Philippines national statistics agency, wrote that the top wind speeds of typhoons hitting his nation have been increasing over the decades:

"Menacingly, the typhoons are getting stronger and stronger, especially since the 90s. From 1947 to 1960, the strongest typhoon to hit us was Amy in December 1951 with a highest wind speed recorded at 240 kph … From 1961 to 1980, Sening (Joan) was the record holder with a highest wind speed of 275  kph  … During the next twenty years, the highest wind speed was recorded by Anding (Irma) and Rosing (Angela) at 260 kph ... In the current millennium, the highest wind speed has soared to 320 kph recorded by Reming (Durian) "

Below is a chart I made of this data along with the addition of the top wind speed recorded for Super Typhoon Haiyan: gusts of 378 kph.


As Scientific American reported: "Global satellite data from the past 40 years indicate that the net destructive potential of hurricanes has increased, and the strongest hurricanes are becoming more common." There are discussions about adding a new sixth level to the rating scale for hurricanes with sustained winds over 280 kph. Haiyan's sustained winds of 315 kph would have made it a powerful category 6 super typhoon. (note: typhoon, hurricane and tropical cyclone are all region specific names for the same type of storm.)

The climate connection

The latest science says that climate change is increasing the potential strength and potential damage from the most powerful typhoons in several ways.  

Read More:

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