Dozens dead as lethal storms sweep the globe
How worried should we be about hurricanes? As ocean temperatures continue to rise, a respected US scientist has warned that an unprecedented “Category 6” storm is now inevitable.
Lashing wind and rain. Homes torn from their foundations. Streets turned to rushing rivers.
The images on the news today have grown grimly familiar.
On Saturday, Typhoon Mangkhut made landfall in the Philippines, triggering violent landslides and decimating the country’s crops. At least 50 are dead and more missing.
The Category 5 superstorm has now struck China’s densely populated southern coast.
Half a world away on the US’s east coast, at least 12 deaths have been linked to Hurricane Florence, which battered South Carolina on Friday night.
Despite now weakening to a tropical depression, the storm’s sluggish 2 mph pace means it is hammering some areas with up to one metre of rainfall.
These latest disasters follow one of the worst hurricane seasons on record in 2017, with Harvey, Irma and Maria causing almost $300 billion (£230 billion) in damage and claiming more than 3,000 lives.
But US meteorologist Jeff Masters says the worst is yet to come.
Until now, Category 5 has been the strongest possible storm. Masters believes a so-called “Category 6” hurricane, with sustained winds of over 200 mph, is now inevitable.
According to NASA, hurricanes “use warm, moist air as fuel”. A combination of rising ocean temperatures, which have soared since 1970 in part due to climate change, and up to 8% more water vapour in the atmosphere is making storms stronger and more frequent. When they do hit, rising sea levels ensure flooding will be more widespread and severe.
Masters says the devastation of the last two years will “pale in comparison” to a Category 6 storm.
The only possible precedent in human history is the “Great Hurricane of 1780”, which killed more than 20,000 people in US. The damage, which saw the bark torn from trees, was consistent with 200 mph winds.
While there has been a steady rise in named storms in recent decades, death tolls have fallen as infrastructure and forecasting improve.
Eight of the 10 deadliest hurricanes on record happened before 1935.
How worried should we be?
Very, say some. As climate change continues to push up sea temperatures, storms will grow more fierce. The damage to life and property seen in recent years could be just a prologue to the horrors of as yet unseen super hurricanes. We must start being realistic about the existential threat climate change and extreme weather pose to humanity.
We live in the safest time for hurricanes, respond others. Our buildings are stronger, our flood defences more effective and our forecasting is better so we’re not taken by surprise. With the most deadly storms in recent years — Katrina and Maria — most deaths resulted from negligence and other man-made factors. Invest, protect, and we’ll be fine.
- Are you worried about hurricanes? Why or why not?
- Should we attribute extreme weather to climate change?
- Research how a hurricane works and draw a labelled diagram of one.
- Research the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans in 2005. Write a one-page essay debating whether the scale of destruction was preventable.
Some People Say...
“I don’t know how it can be an act of God, but that is the term used by the insurance.”Rodrigo Duterte
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Typhoon Mangkhut first struck Luzon in the Philippines, where dozens have died in landslides and much of the country’s crops have been destroyed just a month before the harvest. It moved onto Hong Kong yesterday and struck China’s populous southern region in the afternoon. In the US, Hurricane Florence — now downgraded to a tropical storm — has hit North and South Carolina with “epic” levels of rain. Earlier in the week, more than one million residents were told to evacuate.
- What do we not know?
- How many people have died in the storms. Many of the areas affected in the Philippines are remote with poor communications, so it may take time for the true figure to emerge. In the US, five people were killed directly by Storm Florence and seven more deaths were possibly linked with the storm.
- A storm is called a “typhoon” if it originates in the north-west Pacific Ocean, a “hurricane” in the north-east Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic Ocean, and a “cyclone” in the Indian Ocean or the Arabian Sea.
- Made landfall
- When a storm reaches the coast after forming over water.
- Category 5
- The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale divides hurricanes into five categories. One is the weakest, with winds of between 74 and 95 mph, while five is the strongest, with wind speeds of 157 mph or more.
- 200 mph
- The highest wind speed on record was recorded during Hurricane Allen in 1980, with sustained winds of around 190 mph.
- Named storms
- Since the 1940s, the scientific community has named all tropical cyclones. Storms are given short, distinctive names to ease communication among authorities and reduce confusion.