Geopolitics

Haiyan And Global Warming: Is New Class Of Cyclones Needed?

A man sits on debris of his house in Leyte province, central Philippines
A man sits on debris of his house in Leyte province, central Philippines
Stéphane Foucart

Does the classification of tropical storms need changing? With sustained winds of 195 miles per hour, and gusts close to 235 mph, the super typhoon Haiyan, which left a trail of destruction in the Philippines and beyond, was the most powerful cyclone to make landfall in recent history. So much so in fact that some climatologists are suggesting the addition of a sixth category to the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale — a scale that allows experts to classify tropical storms depending on the potential destruction they can cause.

The argument is simple: The Saffir-Simpson scale is based on the windspeed and the difference from one category to another is about 20 mph. The fifth category, at the top of the scale, is reached with sustained winds of 157 mph. Haiyan smashed this threshold by almost 40 mph. Isn't it legitimate in this case to add a sixth grade?

The question keeps coming back, with increased regularity. Last year, after Hurricane Sandy hit the northeastern coast of the U.S., former Vice President Al Gore already called for a sixth category of cyclones to be created.

Rising temperature, sea levels

"A lot of tropical meteorologists think that the Saffir-Simpson scale is obsolete and should be replaced," admits Kerry Emanuel, professor at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and one of the leading figures of the research on tropical cyclones. "But personally, I believe that any scale can be deceptive. The problem is that no number can represent the particular nature of the threat posed by a cyclone. In some cases, the destruction will be mostly caused by the wind, in others it will be the storm tide, and in yet other cases, the floods."

For the advocates of Category 6, this decision would be likened to that taken in January 2013 by Australia's Bureau of Meteorology to add a new color — purple — to its temperature maps in order to show the latests measures that went over 50° C (122° F). This new convention also served as a warning: With global warming, such highs are destined to become commonplace.

Adding a new level to the official scale would represent a similar caveat, with one difference though: The connection between global warming and the frequency or intensity of tropical storms is a tricky one to make. Will there be more strong tropical storms in the future? The link seems logical — tropical storms form only when the temperature on the surface of the ocean rises above 26° C (78.8° F), and with the current warming process, these temperatures are certain to rise. Besides, the fact that the waters in the North Pacific were particularly warm is the very reason why Haiyan was so uncommonly powerful.

That said, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed in its latest report (published in September) that the likelihood of a connection between global warming and tropical storms doesn't exceed 50%. The report also judges that the uncertain precision in the measures and the lack of hindsight are too notable to blame the recent trend merely on climate change. MIT's Emanuel believes this assessment to be "too conservative," as do numerous experts who have little doubt that a sharp increase in the number of Category 4 or 5 cyclones will happen this century.

If the question of the relationship between global warming and cyclones is still unresolved, there is no question whatsoever that other effects of climate change will reinforce their destructive potential. A cyclone always comes with a "storm tide" that causes the sea level to rise due to low pressure at the center of the cyclonic system. These sudden tides — more than four meters in the case of Sandy — are however exacerbated by the current sea level rise, which is one of the main consequences of global warming.

In some areas of the Philippines, Haiyan caused the ocean to penetrate inland over several miles, causing considerable damage. According to the Global Sea Level Observing System, the sea level on the Philippine coast has risen 20 centimeters since 1960, further weakening the country's coasts in the face of such phenomena.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

4.9%

China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.

📈💥  IN OTHER NEWS

​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.


Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ