Super typhoons may be the new norm due to climate change

With sustained winds of exceeding 215 kilometres per hour (195 mph) as it churns its way across Philippines on Sunday morning, Super Typhoon Goni now ranks as one of the most powerful tropical storms to make landfall in recorded history.

Wind accumulation over the Phillipines. Darker values represent stronger winds. The lines shows the hurricane tracks. Categorisation of hurricane is indicated by the dots on the lines: Grey – Tropical storm, Blue – Category 1, Red – Category 4, Purple – Category 5. Obtained from

This is more than enough to cause extreme damage, including power cuts, flash floods, infrastructural damage and loss of lives. Nearly a million people have been evacuated (Source) but currently, more than 20 million are estimated to be at living in the most affected areas. People may have to stay longer in evacuation centres even after Goni passes, because of another storm already brewing in the Pacific ocean that may affect the Philippines shortly.

COVID-19, which has infected more than 380,000 people and killed 7,238 as of Nov 1, 2020 (Source), complicates things even more. Evacuation centres can make social distancing more challenging than the usual impact of typhoons, whether in rural or urban settings, takes its toll on poorer communities. Poverty is always a major socio-economic concern and context in humanitarian emergencies, disasters, and epidemics in the Philippines (Source).

What is a super typhoon?

“Super-typhoon” is a term used for typhoons that reach maximum sustained 1-minute surface winds of at least 65 m/s (150 mph, ~234 km/h). This is the equivalent of a category 5 severe tropical cyclone in the Australian basin. It’s basically a really intense typhoon, with the ability to produce high storm surges and torrential downpours, in addition to powerful winds. The storms are categorised by the strength of their winds, although the wind itself often isn’t the deadliest part of the tempest. Storm surges—pulses of water pushed by the advancing cyclone—often result in coastal flooding that causes drowning and the collapse of structures.

Will extreme weather like super typhoons become the new norm?

Unfortunately, yes. There is substantial scientific evidence that indicates that human-caused climate change is contributing to stronger tropical cyclones. Warmer sea surface waters provide more energy that cyclones need to form and intensify. With increased warmth, cyclones can carry more water, which they can dump on land through torrential rains.

On weather satellite, Goni displayed a sharply defined eye and near-perfect symmetry, characteristic of the most intense tropical cyclones. Here’s its radical transformation from a disheveled tropical storm into a powerful super typhoon:

For the Philippines which experience about 20 typhoons a year, this is a particularly acute issue, since it is one of the areas of the world most affected by tropical cyclones.

Ultimately, a discussion of climate injustice must be undertaken because, while the Philippines are vulnerable to typhoons augmented by climate change, the Filipino people bear a disproportionately low responsibility for causing climate change.”

Climate Change and Typhoons in the Philippines: Extreme Weather Events in the Anthropocene (by W. Holden and S. Marshall) doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-812056-9.00024-5

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